Editorial: UM board puts unions above taxpayers

The Detroit News

The University of Michigan’s regents should not serve as business agents for labor unions trying to organize college workers. As elected officials, they are supposed to protect the interests of the state’s taxpayers.

But on Thursday, with little deliberation and no adequate explanation, the Democratic regents who control the board voted to grease the way for union organizing drives on campus.

They did so, reports The Detroit News’ Daniel Howes, despite a request from UM President Mark Schlissel that the vote be delayed for more deliberations of its consequences. 

The regents ignored that plea. Regent Mark Bernstein, who is up for reelection this fall, told Schlissel in an email from his private account that it was urgent for the board to act in advance of an "intervening event." 

The event was not specified, but it would not be out of line to assume the reference was to the fall election process, which starts with the Democratic convention in August when regent candidates will be nominated.

Mark Bernstein

Labor wields considerable influence over Democratic nominations. 

Chairman Ron Weiser, the lone Republican, was the only regent to vote against the action taken by the board, which, among other things, allows for card-check organizing. Such drives enable a union to be certified when a majority of employees within a group sign pledge cards, and avoids a secret ballot election.

It is a notoriously un-democratic method that subjects to intimidation employees who might vote differently if the balloting were confidential.

UM also will be required to "remain neutral," meaning it will not be permitted to advocate against an organizing drive.

At a time when COVID-19 is impacting enrollment and university funds, and UM may be subject to an expensive legal resolution of claims that it harbored for decades a doctor who molested student athletes, it is an imprudent time to voluntarily drive up costs.

That’s what unionization will do. 

Also of concern here is that, based on the emails, it appears much of the decision-making on this issue was held during "focused discussions" in the days leading up to the vote — discussions that were not held in public. At least some of the deliberation was conducted using private email accounts.

That could violate the state’s Open Meetings Act, a law UM has historically disdained.

This self-serving maneuver by a Democratic board currying the favor of a major Democratic Party funder should not go unnoticed by the state Legislature, which will decide this summer and fall how to allocate scarce resources for higher education.

A university board that is so cavalier with taxpayer dollars should not expect to be rewarded with more of them.