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GOP aims to penalize University, Wayne State

By Danielle Raykhinshteyn, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 19, 2013

A subcommittee in the Michigan House of Representatives proposed a new bill that could cut funding to the University's three campuses by about by $41 million for the 2013-2014 academic year.

Although the bill would increase funding for higher education, it would penalize the University and Wayne State University for negotiating contracts prior to right-to-work legislation passed in December 2012 and taking effect at the end of March.

Because the University has already reached tentative contracts with nurses and lecturers, it would fall into this penalized category. The Graduate Employees Organization spent most of last week negotiating with University officials to sign a contract extension prior to the right-to-work law's effective date. Members are currently voting on an agreement proposed by the University on Monday after the union left the bargaining table late last week. The University of Michigan Professional Nurses Council also reached a tentative agreement last week.

Both groups have yet to ratify these contracts.

However, the University would still face penalty if the bill were passed through the legislature because of the negotiation of the contracts, according to University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald. In order to avoid the loss, the University would have to prove that these new contract negotiations would save more than 10 percent than the old contracts.

Fitzgerald said it's too early in the budgeting process to determine how these cuts would affect the University itself. In the mean time, Fitzgerald said the University will continue to negotiate with unions with expiring contracts. He said discussion with state legislators will continue in the coming weeks.

Cynthia Wilbanks, the University’s vice president for government relations, said in a statement the University still has a lot to work out with the legislature.

“There are elements of this proposal that are very disappointing,” Wilbanks said. “Yet, it is important to note that this is not the end of the process. We have more hard work to do in the weeks and months ahead.”

State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) said the Republican legislature is trying to “retroactively punish these institutions” for doing something completely legal.

“There are a number of local governments, communities and Universities who have taken the opportunity to push up their negotiations with their employees, and in many cases, save millions and millions of dollars for the taxpayers in the process,” Irwin said. “And the Republican legislators are trying to punish these institutions for making this choice because of political ideology.”

—Daily Staff Reporter Ian Dillingham contributed reporting

Follow Danielle Raykhinshteyn on Twitter at @dannierayh.