It’s been brought to my attention that, during Tuesday’s Ypsi City Council meeting, Pete Murdock will request a vote on a resolution to terminate the City’s relationship with the Ann Arbor – Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce. “To paraphrase the Governor,” said Murdock in a message that I received earlier this evening, “we are exercising our ‘choice’.” Murdock is, of course, referencing Governor Snyder’s recent justification for signing the right-to-work bill that was put on his desk by the Republican majorities in the House and Senate. The bill, said Snyder, was important because it gave workers in union shops the choice as to whether or not they wanted to contribute toward the funding of said union. (Previously, non-union members contributed toward the non-political activities of the union through agency fees. Under right-to-work, they will no longer have to. This will invariably result in declining revenues for unions, making them less effective advocates for workers.) Snyder, in other words, positioned it as a freedom of choice issue, when, in fact, the legislation is clearly about driving down worker pay and benefits over time. (As several others have pointed out, it shouldn’t be called “right to work,” but “right to work for less.”) Murdock, it would seem, is looking for an opportunity to strike back against the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which was instrumental in the push for right-to-work.
Snyder also, as we’ve discussed, has said that this new right-to-work legislation would ultimately be a good thing for unions, as it would force them to be more customer service driven. Under this new paradigm, says Snyder, unions will still exist, and they’ll still be able to negotiate on behalf of employees, but they won’t be compensated for their work unless they can prove to employees that they “add value”. Murdock, in his note, again invoking Snyder, went on to say that the Chamber would have to “earn our dues through demonstrating their ‘value’.” And this, he said, was something that they hadn’t been doing, as demonstrated by their support of right-to-work legislation, and tax policies that hurt Ypsilanti, as well as their advocacy for environmental deregulation and the rollback of worker protections. This, says Murdock, “makes them an organization that the City should not be a part of.”
At this point, it’s probably worth pointing out that what we refer to as the “Chamber of Commerce” actually isn’t a single, monolithic entity. There’s the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is super evil, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which is evil, and the Ann Arbor – Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce, which, from time to time, does evil things.
I don’t really have a position on whether or not we should opt out of the local Chamber. On one hand, I like the idea of taking a symbolic swipe at an organization that helped bring right-to-work to Michigan, but, on the other, I realize that holding the local Chamber responsible for the actions of those in other organizations, regardless of how good it might make us feel, might be a distraction. And, not only that, but it’s probably unfair. The local Chamber, as I understand it, contributes nothing to the PACs of the U.S. Chamber and the Michigan Chamber. And, as far as I know, they did not join the Michigan Chamber in coming out in favor of right-to-work.
With that said, the local Chamber is traditionally a conservative organization, as evidenced by their active involvment in the Ypsi City Income Tax debate. They, for those of you who don’t recall, were very much against it. This, as I understand it, had quite a bit to do with their Board Chair at the time, Tom Harrison, the CEO of Ypsilanti’s Michigan Ladder, who was adamant about not wanting taxes to go up, regardless of the dire situation in the City. Tom, from what I understand, however, will be leaving his position at the beginning of January, to be replaced by a woman from Eastern Michigan University, who, I imagine, could be a little less of a Libertarian. Whether or not that will impact policy, I’m not sure, but I thought that it was worth mentioning.
Personally, I don’t really care either way. I wouldn’t consider myself a big fan of the local Chamber, but, at the same time, I acknowledge that they aren’t our primary enemy. Still, though, a symbolic blow may not be a bad thing, especially if it forces our local Chamber to get a little more vocal in its opposition to the state and national organizations. And, who knows, our defection could lead to others, not just in our area, but across the state, and that really could have an effect. On the down side, some good local people, who are probably trying to do the right thing, could suffer. But, maybe it’s worth the risk to send a message. And, just because we step away now, doesn’t mean that we couldn’t come back in the future.
Also, it’s worth pointing out that, in the wake of the recent right-to-work battle, others are also attempting to draw comparisons between the Chamber of Commerce and unions. It’s not a perfect analogy, at least as presented in the above graphic, which was floating around the internet today, but the idea, I think, is an interesting one. How long, one wonders, would the Chamber of Commerce stay afloat if the government stepped in and said that they had to provide services free of charge to all companies?
One last question… If we do leave the Chamber, how are we going to spend the $300, or however much it is, we pay for annual membership? I’m sure we could come up with a good idea, if we all put our minds to it.
update: My friend Richard Murphy has helped to refine the comparison between unions and chambers of commerce… “Sure,” he says, “businesses that don’t pay into the Chamber may benefit from the Chamber’s legislative work for lower taxes, and nobody’s complaining too hard — but right-to-work is more like businesses demanding to be covered by the Chamber’s mutual insurance fund without being paid into it.”
update: For those of you who are interested, here are the legislative priorities of the Michigan Chamber, as decided on January 17, 2012.
– Eliminate the Personal Property Tax
– Support Market-Oriented Solutions to Health Care Issues
– Encourage the Completion of a Balanced State Budget on Time with No General Tax Increases
– Improve Michigan’s Regulatory Climate
– Improve the Condition and Performance of Michigan’s Transportation System.
update: I haven’t talked with the other members of City Council, but Mayor Schreiber tells me that he’ll be voting to stay a member of the local Chamber.