Vindictive Michigan Republicans seek retribution against U-M and Wayne State for renegotiating union contracts prior to the March 28 roll-out of right-to-work legislation

A bill passed this morning by the House Higher Education Subcommittee, in a 4-3 vote along party lines, would cut an additional $41 million in state funding from the University of Michigan, and $27.5 million in funding from Wayne State University. According to a report in today’s Detroit Free Press, this is being done to “punish” the universities for their efforts to renegotiate with their respective unions prior to next week, when Michigan’s recently passed “right to work” legislation becomes the law of the land. (Wayne State recently signed an eight-year contract with its faculty, and, earlier this month, the University of Michigan came to terms with its lecturers’ union on a four year deal. An agreement with the U-M nurses’ union, I’m told, is also in the works.) The Republicans, it would seem, don’t like it when others follow their lead and try to game the system. (As you’ll recall, the controversial anti-union legislation in question was forced through the lame duck legislature this past November without so much as a single hearing, in violation of all accepted protocol.)

Here, for those of you who are interested, is the high-level background… At the end of the month, employees working in union environments, within the state of Michigan, will be able to avail themselves of union services without having to pay for said services, either through union dues, or what are called agency fees. This, however, does not apply for those union entities that have preexisting agreements in place prior to March 28. For the terms of those agreements, as long as they’re executed prior to the so-called right-to-work legislation going into effect, the unions in question would be able to continue on as they had in the past, collecting dues and agency fees, and using the resulting funds to ensure workplace safety, fight for better wages, etc. The Republican attempt to cut off their funding, via this new legislation, in other words, would be delayed until such time that a new contract had to be negotiated. So, clearly, there’s a desire on the part of unions to lock in lengthy contracts now, before the law goes into effect. And, as you might imagine, the Republicans who conspired to make Michigan a right-to-work state are not too happy about it.

It’s also worth noting that Michigan Republicans have long had a tempestuous relationship with the state’s universities. On one hand they know that our universities are probably the only things keeping us from sliding into economic irrelevancy, but, on the other, they absolutely hate the fact that universities are, by their very nature, breeding grounds for bright, inquisitive individuals, who often aren’t inclined to accept simplistic rhetoric and vote for candidates pushing anti-science agendas. (Republicans in Lansing like to think that cheap labor is enough to turn the state around, but they know, deep down, in their twisted, shrunken hearts, that they need the high-tech start-up companies and that educated graduates that our research universities are turning out.) And, every so often, things come to a head. As you may recall, things heated up a few years ago, when House Republicans attempted to withhold funding from Michigan universities that continued offering domestic partner benefits, in spite of the fact that many in the legislature made it known that the Lord was opposed to the idea of insuring homosexuals in committed relationships. (God, as we know, prefers his gays to be promiscuous and sickly.) Fortunately, in that instance, the Governor slapped the more rabid members of his party back. It’s not so clear what will happen this time, though, as the Governor hasn’t recently shown a willingness to stand up to the fearful, anti-intellectual, Tea Partying base of his party.

It’s probably also worth noting that this whole thing is playing out in front of a backdrop of already steadily-declining state support for higher education. Last year, the state, which already spent more on prisons than on higher education, passed a budget that saw university funding decrease by an additional 22%, prompting speculation on the part of many that the University of Michigan would eventually make the choice to become a private institution. (The currently proposed Republican budget, it should be noted, would see university funding go back up by 2.2%, but that, of course doesn’t take into account these penalties which are being threatened against schools like Wayne State and U-M. “Without the penalty,” according to AnnArbor.com, U-M is set to receive $278.9 million in state appropriations, a 1.7% increase over this year.”)

Here’s what the Higher Education Subcommittee provision in question states:

“Provides that funds appropriated for fiduciary responsibility in employee contracting be paid to a university only if it does not extend, renew, or enter into a labor contract under certain circumstances between December 10, 2012 and March 28, 2013 without achieving 10% or greater savings and does not enter into a contract between the same dates that contains only terms that constitute a union security agreement that requires any of several specified employee actions as a condition of employment.”

It is, of course, worth mentioning that this language coming out of the subcommittee could well be stripped and/or edited in the House and Senate, as they continue to debate the bill, so this isn’t by any means a done deal. It does, however, illustrate to me just how vindictive and hypocritical our Republicans in Lansing are. The fact that they’re thinking of punishing universities for acting in accordance with the law, and negotiating openly with their unions, while they themselves conspired to ram though divisive right-to-work legislation during the lame duck session, behind police barricades, and without any public debate, I think, speaks volumes. And, one suspects, this isn’t the end of it. If they’re going after our universities for proactively coming to terms with their unions prior to March 28, then you can assume they’ll attempt to do the same thing with our local governments, that are attempting to do the same thing.

update: M-Live has a response from the Governor’s office, as well as quotes from two of the Republicans responsible for this proposal. Here’s a clip.

…How will Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration respond to the proposal?

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said in an email “it’s just one part of the legislative process and we’ll watch closely as the issue and appropriations process progresses.”

Wurfel said that Snyder has indicated that “if there was significant economic benefit or savings in long-term contracts” that were negotiated, they could be of value and “make sense.” But if those contract changes offer “very little substance, then it’s fair (to) bring up questions and concerns.”

And here are the thoughts of Republican State Representative Al Pscholka and Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville:

AL PSCHOLKA: “I think we’ve sent a pretty serious message here,” the chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee said after today’s vote. “And hopefully it’s received. The message is: Protect taxpayers. If you’re going to do contracts, make sure that you come up with real taxpayer savings. We haven’t seen any yet.”

RANDY RICHARDVILLE: “What I favor is reasonable representation to the people that were appointed to these boards,” Richardville said today on the Senate floor. “If it’s a quote-unquote money grab to increase contracts in a way that isn’t normal because a law was passed, then I think that the people that either attend or help pay for that — the taxpayers in general — should have some serious questions about the way they’re spending that money… I wouldn’t see the fact that we are not going to throw more money into people’s hands that aren’t responsibly looking at it as necessarily a punishment. I think it’s being responsible with taxpayer dollars, and they need to make sure that they are responsible.”

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20 Comments

  1. Robert
    Posted March 19, 2013 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    I wonder, can UM and WSU initiate legal actions of any kind against the state regarding this. Can injunctions block this?

  2. Posted March 20, 2013 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    “At the end of the day a so-called progressive Democrat is still a Democrat, and the Democratic Party has re-made its image to reflect the interests of its new big donors from Wall Street, who now feel as comfortable buying Democrats as they do purchasing a Republican politician.

    Both Republicans and Democrats know that a Grand Bargain comes with gigantic political risks, most notably political suicide, since the party that cuts Social Security and Medicare will earn the hatred of 99% of Americans. Their ingenious answer is to blame each other. The progressive Democrats and Tea Party Republicans who stand on the sidelines during this fiasco — without taking any real action to stop it — stand to benefit from the outcome, and will loudly denounce the treachery post-treachery, their own names remaining unbesmirched.”

  3. Jennifer
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Mark, your post captures my thoughts exactly when I heard this story on the radio. It’s like these state Republicans can’t hear themselves–their jaw-dropping hypocrisy about process, and the anti-labor venom that somehow makes it “ok” to jeopardize the educational mission. I mean, the law specifies March 28, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that there’s negotiation happening in advance of that. What is a surprise is the undemocratic lengths they went to last year to ram through their agenda; why they would want to remind anyone of that is beyond me.

    Does anyone know the status of attempts to overturn these measures on the basis of process and open government principles?

  4. Edward
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Further cementing their status as anti-science patriots, the Republicans on the subcommittee also slipped in a line about stem cell research. While they didn’t seek to cut funding from UM, because of the university’s pursuit of stem cell research, as they have in the past, they did mention it. I’ll look for the wording, in case others are interested.

  5. Tammy
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    You’d think all these rightwing assaults would be making citizens do something. Democrats have a hard time rousing themselves, it would seem.

  6. Knox
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    My sense is that the University of Michigan has written off the state. Maybe, if state funding composed a larger percentage of the University’s budget, they’d be upset by this. As it is, though, I think the University is just happy to get what it can, while it can. They may not ever go “private” in an explicit sense, but that’s clearly the direction in which they’re steering the ship. Every year there are few Michigan kids going to the University of Michigan. Instead we see more and more rich kids from the northeast, and foreign students who are able to pay full freight. It’s changing the culture of the school, but it’s profitable, and I don’t know that I blame the University, as they need to adapt in this era of decreasing state support.

  7. Meta
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Joshua Pugh in the Detroit News:

    This morning started with an op-ed from House Speaker Jase Bolger on how – despite the stagnant unemployment rate and the refusal of Lansing Republicans to fix our roads and invest in education – Michigan is “The Comeback State!”

    Unfortunately for Republicans, it was all downhill from there.

    The story of Detroit’s new emergency manager’s unpaid taxes reached its fourth day, with no clear explanation from Gov. Snyder’s office as to how they didn’t do a 90-second Internet search. Kevyn Orr, blaming his accountant, still refuses to take responsibility for not paying thousands in unemployment taxes. Gov. Snyder whined about wanting to “move forward.” The Detroit News continued to raise questions about the scandal, talking to a Maryland tax attorney who said nearly $16,000 in child care taxes just doesn’t make sense:

    “That’s an awful lot of taxes for a baby sitter. Are you sure he’s not running a day care?” joked Maryland tax attorney Jeffrey Katz.

    He said the numbers don’t add up. In Maryland, unemployment taxes are capped at about $1,150 a year per employee, Katz said, so Orr would have to go through more than five baby sitters in one year to reach $6,500 in back taxes for one year.

    “There has to be a different explanation,” Katz said.

    Meanwhile, in Lansing, a House committee passed a provision meant to punish the state’s public universities for passing contracts before right to work took effect. Of course, the universities’ actions were completely legal and responsible – or else Republican politicians would be able to hold them accountable without contorting the budget process. Instead, they are attempting to strip $41 million in funding from the University of Michigan and $27.5 million from WayneStateUniversity. The deputy director of the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency said “there has never been labor-related language added to higher education performance funding benchmarks.” If you’re keeping score at home, that’s probably not a good indication that the maneuver is legal. In another piece of the funding bill that Gov. Snyder has called unconstitutional in the past, Republicans are attempting to force universities to report to the Legislature on life-saving stem cell research. Now that’s relentless positive action.

    A report also appeared in the Detroit News today revealing that in the first year since Republicans successfully repealed Michigan’s motorcycle helmet law, motorcycle deaths jumped from five in 2011, to 55. This should come as no surprise, as numerous studies have found that motorcycle deaths rise after a state allows riders to ditch their helmets. In response to the increase, the president of the motorcycle advocacy group ABATE of Michigan said that “we consider this a wash.”

    Despite all that bad news, we can be sure that Lansing Republicans will keep pushing their agenda forward, even if they won’t tell us what that agenda is. In 2010, none of them ran for office on taking over cities, or right-to-work, or attacking stem cell research, or repealing the motorcycle helmet law. Maybe one of these days Speaker Bolger will let us know what any of that has to do with “Michigan’s Comeback.”

    Read more:
    http://blogs.detroitnews.com/politics/2013/03/19/a-banner-day-for-lansing-republicans/

  8. Mich Freedom Fund
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    From the Facebook account of the Michigan Freedom Fund.

    “While Wayne State and the University of Michigan are passing deals to violate their employees’ civil rights, CMU and FSU have stood up to the pressure from 1%er union bosses and defended their workers!”

    http://www.facebook.com/MichiganFreedomFund

  9. Meta
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    From the MLive article linked to at the end of the post:

    Greg McNeily, president of the Michigan Freedom Fund: “House members did the right thing today by standing against the special interests and standing up for the civil rights of hard working teachers and university staff,” said McNeily, a longtime associate of former gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos, in a release. “Professors at Wayne State and the University of Michigan as well as teachers in districts across Michigan deserve much better than to have their civil rights trampled by union officials and school administrators conspiring to establish secret backroom deals that cut teachers’ salary while forcing them to join a union whether they want to or not. Lawmakers who sided with the big-money special interests and refused to defend working families today should be ashamed of themselves.”

    As he well knows, no one was “forced” to join a union under the previous system. They were merely compelled to contribute agency fees in order to maintain the non-political activities of the union. It’s hard to take anything he says seriously when he insists upon lying outright. I would expect no less from an associate of Dick DeVos’s though. And I loved the part about “secret backroom deals”. Best example of “pot calling the kettle black” that I’ve ever seen.

  10. alpha
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Cuts to higher ed since 2008, a state by state comparison.

    http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2013/03/cuts-to-higher-education-since-2008.html

  11. Demetrius
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    “Vindictive Michigan Republicans” is redundant.

  12. anonymous
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Enraged when people attempt to lessen the impact of their underhanded maneuvers.

    -Pure Michigan

  13. Aaron B.
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    I sure hope the citizens of Michigan take note of all this and don’t forget come the next election. Hopefully enough folks care and we can turn the tide…. but I’m not holding my breath.

  14. anon
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    next election?

    how about right now.

  15. John Galt
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I say we tear down the University of Michigan and build the biggest, greyest, most efficient chicken processing plant known to man! Let’s put that American ingenuity to work and block out the sun, people! We can do this!

  16. Irwin by proxy
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Jeff Irwin:

    Yesterday, Michigan House Republicans passed a higher education budget that cuts $41 million dollars from U of M in an effort to punish the University for updating labor contracts that extend union security clauses. In effect, the Republicans are having a political temper tantrum because their “Right to Work for Less” legislation doesn’t take effect until March 28th. Now, they’re trying to retroactively punish institutions that have completed new or extended contracts in advance of the onset of their coveted new restrictions on collective bargaining.

    Why are they so maniacal about taking away the right to bargain for union security clauses? I don’t know that, but I do know that they shouldn’t be attacking some of our state’s best institutions, damaging students and stunting important innovation because of their political machinations.

  17. Aaron B.
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Right now the GOP control the governors seat, the house, the senate, and AG ans Secretary of State… I don’t think they rightly care about protests… or phone calls… I think it will take an election to derail them. I wish it were not the case but all the protests over right to work didn’t seem to slow em down.

  18. double anonymous
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    And they also have the cops. Let’s not forget that.

  19. Posted March 20, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    SNYDER’S COUP
    by Mike Whitney

    “The democratic rights of Detroit’s citizens are being trampled to protect the interests of Snyder’s wealthy CEO friends and their lobbyists.” —Lon Johnson, Michigan Democratic Party Chair

    Far-right Governor Rick Snyder has ignored Michigan voters and installed Washington DC attorney Kevyn Orr as Detroit’s emergency financial manager (EFM), a position that will give Orr sweeping powers to tear up labor contracts, slash pensions, cut public services, and privatize city-owned assets. From March 28–the date when Public Act 436 kicks in –Orr will make the decisions that would normally be decided by elected officials, primarily the mayor and the city council. In other words, Detroit will become the first city in the US to have its democratically-elected government replaced by a financial dictator.

    According to Firedog Lake’s Lindsay Beyerstein, Detroit’s emergency manager will have “virtually unlimited power to reorganize every aspect of city business, including dissolving the city entirely. The emergency manager even has the power to terminate collective bargaining agreements.” (Firedog Lake)

    The elites who support this blatant evisceration of the democratic process, are confident that Orr will serve the needs of their primary constituents; businessmen, Wall Street speculators and bondholders. Accordingly, Detroit’s red ink will be shunted onto working people via pay cuts, high unemployment, and reduced social services even though they are in no way responsible for Detroit’s $300 million budget deficits. Here’s an excerpt from an article in the NYT:

    “Despite Mr. Orr’s legal background, he said he hoped the city would not ultimately need to file for bankruptcy. Municipal bankruptcies are rare, but it was lost on no one that the state had selected an expert in bankruptcy law for Detroit, as opposed to a financial accountant, former city manager or elected official.

    Under Michigan law, a city can file for bankruptcy only under certain conditions, including if an emergency manager has attempted other measures and concluded that such a move is needed.” (“Bankruptcy Lawyer Is Named to Manage an Ailing Detroit”, New York Times)

    Orr will avoid bankruptcy at all cost, mainly because bankruptcy would mean losses for banks and bondholders which is a big no-no. Instead, he will balance the budget on the backs of teachers, firefighters and other public employees who will either get their pink slips or see their weekly paychecks shrivel to paupers wages. Elites in the Eurozone followed the same basic script when they installed their “technocrats” in Athens and Rome in the early rounds of the EU debt crisis. These faux prime ministers excuted a well-rehearsed looting operation that thrust the continent into severe recession. Orr will follow the same strategy; crushing the unions, reducing elderly pensioners to destitution, and auctioning off valuable city assets at firesale prices, all under the banner of austerity. According to SEP presidential candidate Jerry White:

    “Orr is threatening to carry out a “managed bankruptcy” of Detroit to extract unprecedented concessions from city workers. “I am hopeful to engage in fruitful and productive discussions without the need to resort to bankruptcy,” Orr said last Thursday, adding that, “One thing everybody needs to know, if you go into bankruptcy, Chapter 9 of the bankruptcy code is weighted toward the municipality.”

    In other words, if the unions prove unable to force city workers to accept savage wage and benefit cuts, then the bankruptcy court will impose this and much more on workers, retirees and city residents. “I don’t want to pull that cudgel out unless I have to,” Orr said. “I’d prefer to pursue a consensual resolution…Don’t make me go to bankruptcy court. You won’t enjoy it.” (“The managed bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler: A model for the assault on Detroit”, Jerry White, World Socialist Web Site)

    Wall Street and the media have been overwhelmingly supportive of Snyder’s move to suspend democracy in the name of fiscal consolidation. S&P credit analyst Jane Hudson Ridley summed it up like this, “The appointment of an EM allows the city to move forward in a more efficient manner.” Indeed, financial elites don’t really care whether the appearance of democracy is maintained or not. What matters is the continued upward distribution of wealth. To that end, Orr’s task is to make sure that the losses are assigned to those who can least afford the cost, working people.

    Snyder’s coup d’etat in Detroit is a test-case for a more ambitious plan to install Wall Street’s proconsuls in struggling cities across the country. If Orr is able achieve his objectives in Motor City, then the same strategy will be applied elsewhere.

  20. Meta
    Posted March 21, 2013 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    From the Ann Arbor Chronicle:

    Groundbreaking contracts with 15 of Washtenaw County’s 17 bargaining units were authorized by the county board of commissioners at its March 20, 2013 meeting. The deals, which take effect March 21, come a week before Michigan’s right-to-work law takes effect, and guarantee that employees will not be subject to the law until the contracts expire. The board also voted to approve comparable compensation and benefits for its non-union workers.

    The majority of contracts run through Dec. 31, 2023 and are the longest-term labor agreements ever authorized by the Washtenaw County government, which employs about 1,300 workers. One of the unions agreed to a shorter-term contract: The contract for AFSCME 3052 lasts five years, through Dec. 31, 2017.

    Typically, such agreements last two to five years. About 85% of county workers belong to a union.

    In broad strokes, the agreements provide for annual wage increases, a cap on employee healthcare contributions, and the elimination of “banked leave” days. Banked leave days have been used in recent years to help balance the budget by cutting labor costs. The days are unpaid, but don’t affect retirement calculations.

    Read more:
    http://annarborchronicle.com/2013/03/20/new-washtenaw-county-labor-deals-approved/

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