Michigan lawmakers prep burst of campaign fundraisers, spending for Wednesday session

House panel OKs ban on public employee union 'paid release time'

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Michigan State Rep. Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Township

Lansing — House lawmakers signed off Thursday on legislation that would ban paid “release time” for most public employees and prohibit release time service credit from retirement calculations for public school employees.

The House bills and Senate legislation narrowly passed last week were approved by the Education Reform Committee in 8-7 votes, with Republican Reps. Brett Robertson of Charlotte and Julie Alexander of Hanover opposing the legislation.

The bills will now move to the full House floor.

“I think this ought to be on their cost, not the state’s,” said Rep. Tim Kelly, chairman for the House Education Reform committee. “It’s about trying to get more money into the classroom.”

Several amendments were rejected from Democrats who, along with several school employee unions, criticized the legislation as an attack on unions and said it would cost administrators extra to meet with union representatives after hours.

“This will terribly disrupt,” said Democratic Rep. Bill Sowerby, the former treasurer for Clinton Township. “It will discourage those stewards who represent those employees.”

Republican Rep. Steve Johnson’s bill would prevent government agencies, including public schools, from entering into contracts with employees that pay employees for time spent doing union work. The bill includes an exemption for police officers, firefighters and corrections officers.

Johnson argued some groups already have policies preventing paid release time.

“This does not prohibit release time,” but bans taxpayer dollars from funding the union work, the Wayland Republican said last week at a hearing on the bills.

The bill by GOP Rep. Pamela Hornberger of Chesterfield Township would prevent public school employees from using release time as service credit to go toward their pension calculation.

As of 2015, 67 of the state’s 587 school districts had contracts that included paid release time provisions, according to the non-partisan Senate Fiscal Agency’s analysis of similar Senate bills.

About $1.6 million in wages in fiscal year 2017-18 were tied to paid release time among Michigan School Employee Retirement System employers, according to the Office of Retirement Services. The bill prohibiting paid release time would likely decrease costs on state and local governments, according to a House Fiscal Agency analysis.

The bill targeting service credits likely would reduce long-term costs to the public school retirement system, but transfer some costs currently paid by the employer to the state's share of unfunded liabilities paid out of the School Aid Fund, according to the fiscal agency's analysis.

The legislation also would create extra costs for employers who would have to pay administrators overtime to solve labor disputes with union officials after regular hours, said Nick Ciaramitaro of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.

Without readily available paid union representatives, more disputes are likely to result in a formal grievance process or even arbitration, costing more time and money, Ciaramitaro said.

“If you take that away, we’re going to see problems fester and grow,” he said.


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