Opinion: During crises, keep Michigan unions strong
A highly contagious pandemic, economic free fall and the scourge of systemic racism: our country is embroiled in three crises right now, and nearly everyone agrees that we need to come together for the good of our country.
In times like these, true leaders make decisions that inspire positive change. So it’s not been surprising, but it has been disappointing, to see these crises expose major differences between some of the folks making decisions about the future of our state.
Take for instance, the unconscionable act playing out before our eyes by members of the state’s Civil Service Commission appointed by former Gov. Rick Snyder.
At a time when state workers have been on the front lines of protecting everyone in Michigan from the novel coronavirus, these anti-worker commissioners are trying to undermine the right of these same state employees to support the unions that are working hard to protect them.
All through this crisis, state workers have been working long hours under stressful conditions, making sacrifices like taking furlough days to help balance the state budget and risking their own health while providing essential services that all of us depend on.
They should be applauded as heroes. Instead, Snyder’s appointees are attacking the very ability of these workers to take care of their families by going after the collective bargaining organizations that fight for these workers every day.
They want to rig the rules of the game against working folks and in favor of large corporations and the wealthy yet again. This time they want to stop payroll deduction of union members’ dues unless the member reauthorizes it every single year before an arbitrary deadline. It’s just another misguided attempt to enact anti-worker policies that represent union busting at its worst.
In stark contrast, consider the recent actions taken by the Democratic majority of the University of Michigan Board of Regents to make it fairer for workers who want to organize a union and join together with the opportunity to do so.
At the University of Michigan, workers will no longer be required to hold formal elections to form recognized bargaining units if they have a clear majority of workers who positively indicate that they want to form a union. This move is allowed under the 85-year-old National Labor Relations Act and is one that will empower all university employees to have their voices heard in the workplace.
In addition, the university will now recognize bargaining units it deems “reasonable,” take a neutral stance on unionization drives, and refrain from retaliating against employees based on their support for a union — all measures that align with common sense and with state and federal law.
The University of Michigan is one of our state’s greatest assets and a beacon of Michigan values for the world to see. As the state that built the middle class in this nation, high among those values are treating working folks with dignity and respect. With an annual budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars and an endowment that’s over $12 billion, the university can certainly afford to ensure that working folks are treated fairly on the job.
The Michigan regents should be applauded for stepping up and doing the right thing for Michigan’s workers. Conversely, the state Civil Service commissioners should be ashamed of themselves for the actions they are considering.
Using the historic crises we are facing as cover for weakening the collective power of folks on the job is shameful and disgusting, and it shouldn’t be allowed. Michigan’s working people deserve better.
Ron Bieber is president of the Michigan AFL-CIO.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Rory Gamble, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.