Lansing Unions aim to fight Michigan legislative proposals Hearings are scheduled on state's compulsory arbitration law

By Tim Martin

Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Leaders with the Michigan AFL-CIO said Monday they will fight proposals in the Republican-dominated state Legislature that they say would undermine contract bargaining rights for public employees -- proposals they say are similar to GOP-led efforts in Wisconsin and other states.

The Republican-backed measures would give state-appointed emergency financial managers for struggling cities and schools the power to terminate labor union contracts as part of sweeping, new powers. Unions also oppose Michigan bills that would eliminate required binding arbitration in certain labor disputes involving police and fire departments and repeal the state's so-called "prevailing wage" laws.

Democrats, who typically support unions, are heavily outnumbered in the Michigan Legislature after last year's election. Republicans hold a 26-12 advantage in the Michigan Senate and a 63-47 edge in the state House. Michigan's new governor, Rick Snyder, also is a Republican who has unions worried about budget proposals they say would hurt schools, the middle class and low-income families.

The Michigan AFL-CIO expected to have 300 to 400 members lobbying lawmakers at the state Capitol Tuesday, with much of their effort going toward killing what they consider anti-union proposals. The concerns are similar in ways to those sparking opposition from public employee unions in Wisconsin and some other states.

"What we're seeing out of the Republican-led Legislature, in some cases, is the same assault on workers that is being done in Wisconsin," said Mark Gaffney, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO.

The state AFL-CIO is affil -iated with unions that represent roughly 350,000 active members throughout Michigan, including more than 100,000 public employees.

A Michigan House committee held hearings on the emergency financial manager legislation earlier this month. Hearings are scheduled this week on Michigan's compulsory arbitration law for police and fire department labor disputes, as well as prevailing wage laws, which establish wages and fringe benefits paid on many taxpayer-supported construction projects.

Republicans say the measures aren't attacks on unions, but rather are aimed at helping Michigan end its long-standing economic and state budget problems.

"We're not out to destroy anybody," said Matt Marsden, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville. "We're trying to help everybody."

Ari Adler, a spokesman for Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger, said the bills cited by labor leaders "are not about collective bargaining, they are about collectively trying to help put Michigan on stronger financial footing for the future."

Other Republican-sponsored bills opposed by unions call for cutting the pay of public employees by 5 percent and allowing "right to work" zones where employers would be prohibited from requiring workers to be union members as a condition of employment.

Unions oppose many of the proposals Snyder has made to eliminate a projected $1.8 billion budget shortfall, but Snyder has said he will work with "union partners in a collective fashion." Snyder is seeking about $180 million in concessions from state workers for the budget year starting Oct. 1.

Many unions oppose Snyder-backed measures that they say would shift more of the tax burden to the middle class or low-income workers, such as a proposal to eliminate the state's earned income tax credit. Unions also are troubled by provisions that would cut state funding to public schools and universities while lowering business taxes.

"To move the state forward takes investment," said David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan. "This budget does everything but that."

Published: Wed, Feb 23, 2011

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