The House Appropriations higher education subcommittee’s funding bill provides a 2.2 percent overall increase in funding for the state’s 15 public universities, but would penalize Wayne State and any other university for extending or signing new labor contracts between Dec. 10 and March 28 — when the new law takes effect. (David Coates/ Detroit News)
Lansing — Wayne State University and the University of Michigan could lose 15 percent of their state funding if the schools ratify new union contracts that bypass Michigan's new right-to-work law under a House Republican budget proposal introduced Tuesday.
The cut would equate to a loss of $27 million for Wayne State and a $47.1 million across U-M's three campuses if the schools proceed forward with long-term labor contracts that would be exempted from the new right-to-work law making financial support of a labor union optional.
The House Appropriations higher education subcommittee's funding bill provides a 2.2 percent overall increase in funding for the state's 15 public universities, but would penalize Wayne State, U-M and any other university for extending or signing new labor contracts between Dec. 10 and March 28 — when the new law takes effect.
Gov. Rick Snyder signed right-to-work laws for private and public sector workers Dec. 11, five days after the bill was introduced in last year's lame duck session.
The GOP-controlled committee approved the bill Tuesday along party lines after Republicans on the panel voted down Democratic amendments to remove the labor contract requirement.
University lobbyists and union leaders vowed to try to stop the provisions from ending up on the governor's desk.
"(The universities) haven't circumvented any law because there's no law in effect," said Mike Boulus, executive director of the President's Council of the State Universities of Michigan.
"Since Michigan is not currently a right to work state, it's wrong for Lansing Republicans to bully university boards and employees who negotiated collective bargaining agreements legally and in good faith," said David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan, which represents teachers statewide. "By punishing Wayne State and the University of Michigan for making decisions that are completely legal, Lansing Republicans are jeopardizing the futures of Michigan students."
Wayne State University's Board of Governors is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a proposed eight-year contract for professors that would allow the faculty union to keep collecting dues or agency fees. The right-to-work law bans union security clauses requiring support of the union as a condition of employment.
"I would hope that they would look at the action today" and reconsider, said Rep. Al Pscholka, a Stevensille Republican and chair of the committee. "I think we've sent a pretty serious message here. And hopefully it's received. The message is: protect taxpayers. If you're going to do contracts, make sure that you come up with real taxpayer savings. We haven't seen any yet."
Rep. Andrew Kandrevas, D-Southgate, called the labor contract restrictions "arbitrary."
"I think it's a bad policy to try to get into the minds of bargaining units and across universities of the state," he said.
U-M's Lecturers' Employee Organization has been trying to ratify a new five-year contract by March 21 for 1,500 non-tenure track instructors on U-M's three campuses in Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn.
Bonnie Halloran, president of the U-M Lecturers' Employee Organization/AFT Michigan, said the Board of Regents generally doesn't vote on the contract. The 1,500-member union, which reached a five-year contract earlier this month, is in the process of a ratification vote. Ballots will be counted Thursday evening, a few hours after the U-M Board of Regents meets.
Halloran called lawmakers proposal to cut university funding "outrageous" since the union was in negotiations with the university before right-to-work legislation was passed.
"The logic behind it is unbelievable; it's unthinkable," Halloran said. "For the state Legislature to come in and threaten the universities for doing something that's totally legal and working with their employees so they have good relations on the campus and peace in the classroom, is outrageous."
WSU spokesman Matt Lockwood lashed out at the proposed 15 percent cut, saying it was retribution that would hurt students with increased tuition.
"This legislation is punishment in reaction to an eight-year contract that was concluded as part of the normal negotiations process, and well within the legal requirements of Right to Work," Lockwood said. "We are stunned and saddened that the Legislature would take such measures in reaction to a contract that is both good for the University and perfectly legal. This is a case of legislators questioning the judgment of people who understand and are responsible for the best interests of the university."
Last week, WSU President Allan Gilmour testified before the Michigan House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education, and addressed the faculty contract.
He said the contract was good for WSU, its students and for the state. He even gave a nod to the right-to-work law, saying that it added urgency to the negotiations that wasn't always present over the previous nine months.
He also said it was good to have brokered an eight-year contract — the longest the WSU faculty has ever had.
"But in my business career, longer contracts provided stability for planning, budgets and personnel," Gilmour said. "Stability of this kind allows us to focus on the things that really matter — teaching, research, and economic development.
"We have been asked what we 'got' for the eight-year duration," Gilmour continued. "We got an agreement that stabilizes the budgets, holds down cost increases, mitigates risk, improves accountability, prepares us to address the future, and allows our faculty to focus on teaching and research. In short: we got a lot, for the benefit of our students' futures."
Gilmour did not say how the contract saves taxpayers money, Pscholka said.
Under the budget proposal, Wayne State and U-M's lost funds would be redirected, with $2.2 million going to Michigan State University's AgBioResearch and Extension and $7 million being applied to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System to cover costs for seven universities with employees in the pension fund.
The remaining funds would go to the other universities that meet so-called performance standards, including restricting tuition increases to 3 percent next year.
Kyle Jen, deputy director of the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency, said there has never been labor-related language added to higher education performance funding benchmarks.
Since passage of right-to-work, labor unions have asked universities and school districts to reopen contracts to extend union security clauses. Some schools have used the negotiations to leverage contract concessions.
"We didn't ask for right-to-work," Boulus said. "(The Legislature) provided the window of opportunity."