State Senate to consider bill targeting public employee unions

Tuesday, December 11, 2018 - 10:33pm

State Senate considers a bill targeting public employee unions.

State Senate considers a bill targeting public employee unions. Buy this photo
Alexis Rankin/Daily

The Michigan state Senate could consider a bill this week that would require public sector unions to hold elections in which members vote every two years on whether or not they want to disband. Leadership from the University of Michigan’s lecturers and graduate student unions called the legislation potentially “devastating” to their organizations and others in the state.

Emily Gauld, president of the Graduate Employees’ Organization, said the bill, which has not yet been scheduled for a vote, would be detrimental to the union and its members.

“It would force us to funnel our resources to the efforts for this regular recertification instead of using those resources to build a strong contract, improve working conditions for graduate workers and do the work that we feel we are supposed to be doing as a union,” Gauld said. “It would very clearly have a very negative impact on the union as a whole.”

Under Senate Bill 1260, a majority of workers associated with public employee unions would have to vote to recertify the organization in even numbered years. Arlan Meekhof, the Republican state Senate majority leader, introduced the bill on Dec. 4, and it was voted out of committee the next morning on a party-line vote. The bill is now being considered before the full Senate, and a vote is expected sometime this week. If it passes, it will move to the lower chamber for a vote there.

Members of GEO and the Lecturers’ Employee Organization have launched a phone banking operation and made trips to Lansing to protest SB 1260. Ian Robinson, LEO president and sociology lecturer, and other local union representatives met with state lawmakers from both parties to explain their opposition to the bill.

“If you want to bleed unions dry, at a minimum, you get to make them waste this money on elections every two years fighting decertification,” Robinson said. “You’re just wasting the union’s resources and that’s really what they want.”

He noted the bill followed the model developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative interest group with ties to Republican mega-donors Charles and David Koch. According to Governing magazine, ALEC has outlined an agenda for the coming year seeking to erode the power of unions at the state level.

In a newsletter to constituents, state Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, outlined a list of controversial bills lawmakers were set to consider before the end of the year, including other anti-union measures such as SB 796 and HB 6474, very similar proposals which would prohibit contracts for public employers that allow paid leave for union-related activities.

“These activities include arbitration, bargaining, and discipline hearings,” Rabhi wrote in an email interview. “Corrections officers and transit authority employees would be exempt; the bills are largely aimed at public school employees. I will oppose this and other attacks on public school teachers’ freedom to efficiently and effectively organize for better working conditions.”

Rabhi noted the “many controversial pieces of legislation” were typical for sessions held between elections and the end of the two-year legislative term, known as lame-duck sessions.

Gauld said lawmakers’ efforts to pass legislation during this period were contrary to democratic principles.

“Doing this in the lame duck really undermines democracy,” Gauld said. “This is really one of the most undemocratic practices in our government: that we can see something that is clearly what the people want and try to take that off the table without any consensus, vote or repercussions.”

Robinson acknowledged previous lame-duck sessions had seen similar attempts to pass controversial legislation, but not to this extent.

“There’s always some of this happening, but this is an extraordinary one in terms of the number of really important pieces of legislation that are being rammed through very, very quickly with almost no discussion and very, very little, if almost no testimony from people who are critical of them,” he said.

Robinson said if SB 1260 passed in the upper chamber, LEO and GEO would continue to fight the bill and work to stop its passage in the state House.

“If it passes the Senate, we will continue doing what we’re doing, and if possible, ramp it up to make an impact on the House, where the Republican majority is smaller,” he said. “If it’s going to be stopped somewhere, it’s more likely to be stopped in the House than in the Senate, frankly.”

However, according to Rabhi, because of the current Republican majorities in both chambers, most of the controversial legislation being considered “is likely to wind up on the governor’s desk to be vetoed or signed into law.”

Gauld said if the bill became law, the union members would strike a balance between fighting the legislation and adapting to it.

“I think that we would have to do a little bit of both out of necessity, but I think our focus would be on trying to fight it,” Gauld said. “Our efforts would be strongly focused on ways that we could fight this and organizing against it to show that this is something that really matters to us.”