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Lansing — A fast-tracked Senate Republican plan would require Michigan public employee union members to vote every two years on if they want to maintain or disband their union, a move critics argue could cause “chaos” in schools, police and fire departments.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, personally sponsored the union election bill and said it would ensure that public-sector workers have the opportunity to “affirm that they still want their union to represent them” by requiring an election every other year.

If less than 50 percent of members vote to recertify, the union certification would be ended. Employee contracts bargained by the union would continue until they expire, except for any provisions related to union responsibilities.

Michigan law already allows public workers to push for union decertification if a majority of members want to do so, said Julie Rowe of the Michigan chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. Mandatory recertification votes would create “unnecessary turmoil in public workplaces," she said

“Requiring such disruption every two years would be a nightmare, not only for the public employees collective bargaining units, but for public employers who have to deal with and manage the process,” Rowe said.

Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth echoed the concerns, suggesting the proposal would strain labor and management relationships in public safety, where “our jobs … are to deal with and prevent chaos in our society.”

“If this bill passes, I guarantee it will create significant internal chaos in our organizations that could possibly or would possibly affect our ability to deal with… external chaos,” Wriggelsworth said.

The Republican-led Senate Competitiveness Committee approved the legislation 4-1 in an early morning Wednesday vote less than 24 hours after the bill was introduced during the busy lame-duck session. It is now before the full Senate. 

The proposal includes a $500,000 appropriation for the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to “implement” the law, which would also make it immune from a public referendum vote.

The plan is supported by conservative groups that pushed for the state’s 2013 right-to-work law, including the Michigan Freedom Fund, linked to the powerful DeVos family, and the Michigan chapter of Americans for Prosperity, backed by the Koch brothers.

“Michigan public employees deserve a choice and a voice in the workplace,” Michael Reitz, executive vice president, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said in a statement.

“Citizens across our state vote every two or four years about who represents them in Lansing and Washington — yet fewer than 1 percent of teachers and only a small number of other union members have ever had the opportunity to vote in support of their unions.”

Wednesday morning’s committee hearing was dominated by opposition from union leaders, who called the legislation an attack on public workers. No supporters spoke beyond a Meekhof staffer, who could not explain why the legislation proposes an immediate appropriation four years from the first required recertification vote in 2022.

Michigan’s right-to-work law prohibits mandatory union dues or fees as a condition of employment. That law allows members to leave a union, which “makes this legislation completely unnecessary,” Rowe said.

“It is obvious that the only real goal of this legislation is to attack Michigan’s public workers, public school teachers, nurses, custodians, secretaries, speech pathologists and librarians.”

The Republican legislation would require the union recertification elections to take place in even years between Aug. 1 and Nov. 30, overlapping with major statewide primary and elections, noted Nick Ciaramitaro, legislative director for AFSCME Council 25, which represents government workers.

Proposing mandatory disruptions within public-sector unions “can only be viewed as a diabolical attempt to silence the voices of dissent” in state elections, Ciaramitaro said.

State law allows Michigan employers to petition for a certification vote if union membership falls below 50 percent, and as few as 30 percent of employees can petition for a certification election whenever a contract is not in place, he said.

Ciaramitaro asked GOP lawmakers to “reject this less than veiled effort to end democratic representation in the workplace on a level field.”

joosting@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3662

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