Should Ypsi withdraw from the Ann Arbor – Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce?

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.

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  1. Christine M
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    Curious what Mayor Schrieber’s reasoning is…

  2. Edward
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    The Chamber exists in order to fight taxes and the minimum wage. While the local Chamber may not be as bad as the state and national organizations, I’d vote to pull our support. To be honest, the city doesn’t get much from the relationship, and the money could better be used elsewhere. As it is, I think we just maintain membership because we think that it’s the right thing to do.

  3. Watching Ypsi
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    yes, I agree.

  4. Demetrius
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    At times, Ypsilanti has suffered from an impression that we are not “business friendly,” and I’m not sure pulling out of the Chamber won’t help to reinforce that.

    On the other hand, given the positions the local, state, and especially national Chamber has taken, I think there is a strong moral argument for pulling out.

  5. Paul Schreiber
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    Ypsilanti City Council should be condemning the policies of the Michigan Chamber and their PAC.  Pulling out the $328.50 A2Y Chamber dues sends no message to the Michigan Chamber. But it does tell the A2Y Chamber that the city doesn’t appreciate their sponsorhip of Ypsi P.R.I.D.E., their networking opportunities for local business people, and their support for making local businesses successful in Ypsilanti.

    Here’s a testimonial from the A2Y Chamber website:
    “I am so glad I joined the A2Y Chamber! I have been a member for a few weeks now, and have already had positive experiences. It began a few days after joining, when I hired fellow chamber member, VC Web Design, for a project. It was such an impeccable experience. Since then, I have also had the opportunity to network and build valuable connections with other members. One thing that makes the A2Y Chamber a clear standout is the highly responsive, energetic, and professional staff – strong membership base – combined with diverse and engaging programming. The A2Y Chamber ROCKS! Thanks for your partnership to take my business to the next level!”
    Rachelle Smith, Principal & Consultant
    Positive Creative Infusion Consulting, LLC

    Revoking the A2Y Chamber dues aims at the wrong chamber.

    Paul Schreiber

  6. Watching Ypsi
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    Of course the Chamber is going to post some Cherry Picked testimonial.

  7. Knox
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Thank you for pointing out, Demetrius, that Ypsi could, if this goes through, further cement the idea in the minds of some that we’re not “business friendly.” That hadn’t occurred to me. Personally, I don’t think that it’s a big risk, but it’s certainly something to consider. I also appreciate the fact that our dropping out of the local chamber probably won’t have much of an impact further up the food chain, where serving the conservative corporate agenda is more what they do. Still, though, I like the idea of fighting back, even if it’s just a tiny, little mosquito bite of thing. I don’t know how the chamber is structured, or how much, if any, they contribute to the state-wide organization. If they do contribute anything, I suspect it’s minimal. And, as has been stated, our local group contributes nothing to the PACs operated by the state and nation-wide chambers, and that’s where all the dirty business gets done. The bigger question to me isn’t political at all. I’d like to know what we gt out of being a chamber member. I know that businesses typically join because, through the chamber, they can get discounted insurance, but why would a municipal entity join? Is it just because they feel as though it’s the right thing to do?

  8. Mr. Y
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Couldn’t local business networking be done outside the environment of the Chamber? We live in a relatively networked world, and a lot could be done with an email list and a BYOB afternoon meet-up at the Freighthouse. Our local Shop Indie in Ypsi for the Holidays campaigns were done outside of the Chamber, and they were successful. I would imagine that other things could be done as well, for a lot less money than $300 per year, per company. And we also have Think Local First, which does a lot of what the Chamber does, only without the right wing politics. If unions have outlived their usefulness, maybe chambers have too.

  9. anon
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    hell yes we should exit the chamber. it’s a no-brainer, and i commend peter murdock for having the gall to propose it.

  10. Bob Krzewisnki
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Perhaps a good compromise would be to have the City Council send a letter to the local Chamber of Commerce, with a copy to the State and national Chambers, condemning the Right To Work support by the Chamber in Michigan. That lets them know city goverments are watching.

  11. Paul B
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    “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…” So, like, to make a Labor omelette you have to break a few Chamber of Commerce eggs? I seriously really like Bob K’s idea for an official letter, though.

  12. Anne
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Is there a way to find out what businesses are members of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce? I see they list 6,800 business members but don’t list any of their members. A quick internet search for their member graphic doesn’t pull up many members who appear proud enough to display it on their websites.

  13. Tom
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    For all the worry about “business friendliness,” why is there no talk of being “union friendly?” Perhaps it’s an unspoken assumption, but I can think of a couple examples to the contrary. For that matter, let’s say for a moment that unions’ interests are ostensibly to protect all working class people from the interests of business. How do you reconcile this contradiction? Maybe you can’t, because it’s not something worthy of riding the fence.

  14. Eel
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    While it may be true that it was the Michigan Chamber and not our local Chamber that put out the statement of support concerning Right To Work, I believe it’s also true that our local Chamber did not seek to fight them on it. They did not issue a counter release. Furthermore, I don’t believe they came out in support of Proposition 2. So I wouldn’t let the local Chamber off the hook. At the very least they’re complicit.

  15. Pete Murdock
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Withdrawing membership from the local Chamber of Commerce does not send a message that we are anti business any more than not being a member of the NAACP indicates that we are anti civil rights. The Chamber of Commerce will still exist and business and individuals can still join if they wish. And the Chamber will still advocate for its business interests, sometimes aligned with our community values sometimes against. The City will still collaborate with the Chamber with Ypsi Pride and other activities that the City and Chamber mutually support. If the Mayor or other City Council members wish to join the Chamber, or other groups, for its networking and other values, they are free to do so. The City of Ypsilanti should not.

    The City of Ypsilanti is a member of several organizations, but their membership consists almost exclusively of municipal and other public sector entities. Michigan Municipal League (MML) Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), Huron Valley Watershed Council (HVWC), Washtenaw Area Transportation Study Committee (WATS) come to mind. The Chamber is the only organization that we are a member of that is not primarily made up of public sector entities. Should we belong to others (NAACP, Sierra Club, Right to Life, Kiwanis, the Moose, etc) I think not,

    Yes, this is pretty symbolic. But symbols are important. It’s not a message to the Chamber as much as it a message to the people in Ypsilanti that the City Government is not going to be a member of an organization that consistently takes positions against our interests.
    Which Side Are You On!

  16. Watching Ypsi
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    yes, sir, agreed.

  17. Edward
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    The chamber should have known that this was coming. The association with the state and national organizations has been dragging them down for years. If they were smart, they’d change their name and end even the appearance of a connection.

  18. A2Y Chamber
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    A2Y Chamber VP of Government Relations Andy LaBarre sent the following out to members of City Council.

    Council members, Representative Rutledge and others:

    Thank you all for including me on this email. I’ve had a chance to speak or at least call all of you except Councilwoman Moeller, whom I plan to call today. I completely understand your frustrations with the State and US Chamber. This is not the first time where their poor choices have reflected poorly on the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti (A2Y) Regional Chamber. I would like to state again that the A2Y Chamber is a separate entity from both of those organizations. It is not chartered through either of them and has its own policy and governance processes and structures, and is not in any way bound by their (Michigan or US chambers) policy positions. The A2Y Chamber is not a member of the US Chamber, but it is a member of the Michigan Chamber because it provides access to the Michigan Association of Chamber Professionals. The A2Y Chamber does not contribute to the Michigan Chamber PAC and it does not have a PAC of its own.

    I’d like to speak to comments referring to so called “Right to Work,” opposition to the Affordable Care Act, and opposition to President Obama. The A2Y Chamber did not support Right to Work legislation. The A2Y Chamber did not issue a statement on it and we continue to want a productive relationship with our labor partners in this community. Several local labor unions are members of the A2Y Chamber, and they are valued as members and for all the economic benefits they bring to our community and our businesses. The A2Y Chamber also did not oppose the ACA. This spring our chamber partnered with Small Business Majority to host an event focused on the ACA so that small businesses understood the things available to them in that legislation ( Finally, our chamber did not in any way oppose President Obama’s re-election. The A2Y Chamber did not endorse any candidate either this August or November. The Chamber sent out a questionnaire to local, state and federal candidates and posted their responses for our membership. We have also hosted candidate mixers which many of you have attended.

    The A2Y Chamber values our relationship with the City of Ypsilanti and its community members. We are the result of a merger of the former Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor chambers. It is vitally important to our chamber that we have a productive and mutually beneficial relationship with the City of Ypsilanti. Your former city manager, Ed Koryzno, was a member of the Chamber’s public policy committee and just this week that committee met with City Manager Ralph Lange and City Planner Teresa Gillotti, to get a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities Ypsilanti faces and to find areas where we can work together. We host other events which we believe provide value to the City, such as Ypsi PRIDE and the duck races at Heritage Festival, to name a few.

    The A2Y Chamber would view it as a major blow if the City of Ypsilanti were not a member. The dues are not the issue, it’s the message of losing the City of Ypsilanti that would be the greatest setback. I hope this email has provided you with a more detailed perspective…..

  19. Watching Ypsi
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    Okay, we just heard total BS. LOL.

  20. anon
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    andy, do you suppose the a2y chamber could issue a statement against right-to-work, as well as the other anti-worker, anti-woman, anti-people-of-color legislation that the lame ducks just pushed through? or would that sort of stand risk hurting the chamber’s bottom line?

    let us also recall that the a2y chamber endorsed rick snyder for governor, which itself implies the chamber supports these current legislations.

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