The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 19, 2018

Many in GOP want to 'make unions go away?' It's hard to argue with the evidence...

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - It's been a brutal eight years for organized labor and working people wrought by the Michigan Legislature, with the state Senate, House and governor's office controlled by Republican lawmakers. 

The good news is that the economy has steadily improved in Michigan and across the nation over the past decade, improving work opportunities for the building trades and the rest of the economy. The bad news is that the state Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder will end their run with an awful record regarding working people and retirees, which will have a negative quality-of-life impacts on people, especially when the economy starts to slow.

Following are some of the Lansing lowlights from the past eight years - which includes some fodder to remember when you go to the polls on Nov. 6.

*In 2011, the  Republican-dominated Legislature was the first in the nation to reduce  unemployment compensation weeks for jobless workers, from 26 to 20. The 26 weeks of benefits had been the standard for some 50 years. All the Democrats in the state Legislature opposed the bill.

*That year the GOP adopted a law that requires jobless workers to accept new employment after receiving 10 weeks of benefits - even if the work that’s available is outside their previous experience or pays lower wages than they were making before. Critics say that creates a low-wage trap for jobless workers and takes time away from hunting for jobs at better pay levels. The law also will make it more difficult for someone to collect unemployment benefits if they leave a job voluntarily or if they’re fired for cause. 

*Also in 2011, the GOP Legislature and Gov. Snyder increased the tax on public employee pensioners by $1.5 billion, expressly to help pay for a $1.7 billion cut in businesses taxes. The law change kept the numbers the same for those born before 1946, decreased exemptions for those born between 1946 and 1952, and subjected the pensions of everybody born after 1952 to full taxation as income. It was effective Jan. 1, 2012.

*Then there was the 2011 adoption of the "phantom wage" law - GOP-backed legislation instituting limits on workers' compensation. For example, construction workers injured on the job who can’t work in the field but can flip burgers will have their workers’ compensation reduced by the amount they could earn at Burger King – if such a phantom job is “reasonably available.” The law also requires injured workers to see a company doctor for the first 28 days of treatment after an on-the-job injury.

*Michigan's right-to-work law - the ultimate blow against labor unions, allowing "free riders" to enjoy union benefits without paying dues  - was signed into law in December 2012. In the state House, only six Republican lawmakers joined all the Dems on the opposing side of the 58-52 vote to institute RTW. In the state Senate, four Republicans joined all 12 Dems in opposition of RTW. GOP Gov. Rick Snyder then signed the bill into law.

In the ensuing years, there has been virtually no GOP bragging about businesses that have relocated to Michigan because of the imposition of RTW, because there has been nothing to brag about.

*Any discussion of building trades endorsements in Michigan can start and end with one issue: the repeal in June of the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act of 1965. Repeal passed 56-53 in the state House and 24-13 in the state Senate. All of the Democrats in both the House and Senate voted against repeal, with 11 Republican lawmakers joining the Dems in the House and four Republicans voting with the Dems in the Senate.  

*Studies show the repeal is virtually certain to drive down wages. A study released earlier this year by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute found that after Indiana repealed its prevailing wage law in 2015, construction wages fell by an average of 8.5 percent, with the lowest-paid workers seeing their paychecks drop by 15 percent. 

Research by the Economic Policy Institute finds that construction worker wages generally drop about 10 percent in states where prevailing wage law are rescinded. Democratic candidate for governor Gretchen Whitmer, endorsed by the building trades unions, said she would actively support prevailing wage reinstatement.

*The prevailing wage repeal drive in 2015 and the successful petition and legislative action in 2018 were both multi-million efforts funded by the Associated Builders and Contractors, supported by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and financially backed by the Devos family. The ABC's endorsed candidate for governor, Republican William Schuette, penned a column in the Oakland Press earlier this year supporting repeal and lower wages under the headline, "Prevailing wage not best for Michigan."

*Speaking of the ABC - the Michigan Chapter and the ABC's national chapter are in direct opposition to just about everything that building trade unions stand for, including fair, collectively bargained wages and benefits for workers, self-funded, time-tested apprenticeship training programs, and reasonable safety regulations. Their endorsements for this election cycle was not printed on their website as of Oct. 9, but in 2016, every single candidate they endorsed in Michigan for the state House and for Congress had an "R" after their name. A prominent banner on the ABC-Michigan website says:  "Get into politics, or get out of business." The takeaway: If the building trades unions don't stay in politics to counter the ABC, their low-wage, low-road model for the state's construction industry will be the only voice that's heard.  

*The state's roads are being starved of funds, and the potholes are not only damaging vehicles, the lack of money for repairs is holding back thousands of man-hours of work for the building trades. After years of non-action, a 2015 GOP-backed plan was implemented to allocate $1.2 billion per year for road repairs, even though Gov. Snyder's own transportation department said we would need nearly double that amount. Of that $1.2 billion, $600 million would come from raising vehicle taxes and the gasoline tax by 7.3 cents per gallon on Jan. 1, 2017. 

But the remaining $600 million per year is set to come straight from the state's general fund by 2021, and could very well be subtracted from schools, law enforcement and local government funding.