The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, February 17, 2012

GOP on House panel approve anti-union legislation package

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING – The Republican steamroller against the state’s unions continued to be unstoppable last month, as a four-bill package designed to further reduce the clout of organized labor passed a House committee on Jan. 31.

Four sequential, anti-labor bills were moved out of committee to be taken up by the full House, but votes hadn’t been scheduled at press time. Given the amount of anti-labor legislation adopted in the past year, there is every reason to believe these bills will be adopted by both the full House and Senate and signed by Gov. Snyder.

“This is just another effort by politicians to dismantle collective bargaining one piece at a time,” said Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift. “These bills won’t create jobs, but they will give big corporations more power to silence the voices of Michigan workers. Our Legislature should be focused on putting people back to work instead of attacking workers and our teachers, nurses and firefighters.”

Here are the latest bills cooked up by Republicans. They all were adopted along party lines before the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Union members packed the Jan. 31 meeting to protest – to no avail.

* House Bill 5023, would allow public employers to go to the Employment Relations Commission and request penalties against those organizing and participating in a strike. The commission can have that money deducted from the employee’s paycheck when he or she returns to work. The bill also penalizes an employer $5,000 a day for an illegal lockout. (There’s a bit of piling on here: it is currently illegal for public school teachers in Michigan to strike. And public strikes by any workers are virtually nonexistent these days).

* HB 5024 would change picketing laws so that the event could not obstruct the entrance to a place of employment or roadways. It would also prohibit the picketing of a private residence. (Did the attempted picketing of Gov. Snyder’s gated residential community last month prompt this one?) The business or person being picketed could seek an injunction from their local circuit court.

* HB 5025 would require employers to receive the annual written consent of employees for deducting union dues from wages.

* HB 5026 would eliminate the state law that prohibits employers from advertising for strike-breakers. If passed, the law would allow any employer looking for scabs to ignore in their advertisements that they are in fact looking to hire strikebreakers.

“None of these bills will do anything to create jobs in Michigan, but they will limit the rights of workers,” said state Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield) who sits on the Oversight and Reform Committee and voted no. “Michigan has more important problems to solve, such as putting our people back to work, restoring the funding of our public schools and repairing our crumbling infrastructure.”

The arguments against the legislation fell on deaf Republican ears.

“With our economy just beginning to rebound, we must ensure that Michigan job providers are able to deliver their goods and services and keep our economy moving forward,” said State Rep. Tom McMillin, (R-Rochester Hills), who chairs the committee that passed the bills.  “The legislation will help provide a stable economy while giving job providers some recourse to stop this type of disruptive act.”

According to the Michigan Education Association, the most draconian of these bills, HB 5025, even drew opposition from the Michigan Association of School Boards. MASB lobbyist Peter Spadafore testified against that bill, saying that payroll deductions are bargained in contracts, and requiring an annual check-off goes around the process that is already in place.

The bill is obviously a backdoor way to slow or stop the collection of union dues by school districts – but cash-strapped school districts want no part of it because of the extra time and effort that will be required to change the system

According to Gongwer News Service, UAW spokesman Tim Hughes was asked if there is any other state that imposes a union dues policy similar to HB 5025. Hughes said Michigan would be the first to do so, and he also testified that the bill preempts federal law, which regulates dues check-off rather than the states.  “I don’t know why the state would need to insert itself in this process to begin with,” he said.