A mess in Michigan: With 37 anti-worker bills on the docket, ‘there’s an awful lot of work to do’
LANSING – The 52nd annual Michigan Building Trades Legislative Conference took place at the dawn of a new, and potentially awful era for organized labor in the state.
“We have never seen this kind of assault on unions in our lifetime,” Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney told delegates on March 1. He said conservative majorities in Michigan and other states “are trying to put organized labor out of business. I don’t take it personally. We are the balance to the rich and the powerful, and it’s their job to put us out of business. But in so doing they’re going to eliminate the middle class.”
State Rep. Joan Bauer, Democrat, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee and represents the hometown 68th House District in Lansing, told delegates that the only good news to report is that with the unemployment situation improving and more tax revenues coming into state coffers, “Michigan has hit bottom. We’re actually doing better than other states. We’ve been cutting for years.”
With that being said, Bauer said “this is a most alarming year for your members, for groups that care about the middle class.” Bauer said she hates to turn her computer on in the morning for fear of seeing what new anti-worker legislation has been introduced.
Gaffney said Michigan’s unions and those in other states are “paying the price for what our members did not do” last November ’s election: vote. He said Democratic lawmakers in numerous states received anger from the right and complacency from the left, when Wall Street and hedge fund managers “received a break – but they didn’t.”
“So voters rebelled – they kicked out the Democratic ruling party and put in the Tea Party, which has resulted in a complete change in the political landscape in this country over the past two years,” Gaffney said.
In Michigan, Senate Republicans picked up four Senate seats in November and now control that body by a veto-proof, 26-12 margin –it’s the GOP’s largest majority in 60 years. Republicans flipped control of the state House last November , and own a 63-47 majority.
This year no less than 12 states, including Michigan, have introduced right-to-work legislation. Another 21 have introduced legislation that would outlaw project labor agreements. And courtesy of a tab kept by the state AFL-CIO, Michigan’s count of anti-worker bills that have been introduced has risen to 37.
Among them, Gaffney said, are proposals that would make it illegal for unionized bus drivers to meet in public school buildings. Public sector union stewards – even if they’re doing their employers’ business – would be barred from meeting on public property. Worker-friendly rules promulgating ergonomics in the workplace would be banned. And the proposed outright repeal of the Michigan Health and Safety Act would mean MIOSHA disappears.
Patrick “Shorty” Gleason, the retired president of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council who currently holds office as a Genesee County Commissioner, said one of the worst Republican proposals would allow an appointed state financial manager to enter financially ailing school districts or municipalities and completely impose or dissolve union contracts. “I have never seen a public official bargain in good faith when they have ultimate power,” Gleason told delegates. “The burden is always put on the back of the working class. I say let the collective bargaining process work. Let us work out our own problems.”
Gaffney said it’s not as if public sector workers and others haven’t helped save the state money already. During the eight years of the Granholm Administration, public sector wages declined by $3.7 billion. And there are now 10,000 fewer state workers than the 60,000 that were in existence eight years ago.
“We’re taking on this fight, but there’s an awful lot of work to do,” Gaffney said. “We have to fight back and make sure Michigan doesn’t turn into another Wisconsin.”