Union powers limited after state board vote

Sep 21, 2017

The number of things state employee unions can bargain for shrunk Wednesday. A state board voted to eliminate their collective bargaining powers on, among other things, seniority and provisions related to overtime and job transfers.

Ahead of the meeting, hundreds of union workers gathered to protest.

“I’m concerned with them taking away our overtime pay,” said Liz Burton. “I’m concerned with them taking away our seniority.” Burton is a chief steward for the Michigan Department of Correction’s union. She said she’s frustrated because the board is taking away rights they deserve.

Mary Ann Cullen, who works at the Caro Center Psychiatric Facility, said unions are responsible for benefits that lots of people receive.

“If anyone gets a lunch break, at all, they can thank a union. If anyone gets maternity leave, they can thank a union for that,” she said.

Backers of the changes, like board member Jase Bolger, said the board needs to increase efficiency in state employment contract negotiations. He said the new rules standardize some of the process.

“We heard the examples of the silliness of seniority,” he said. “Where somebody’s time serving with the state in a different capacity wouldn’t be counted just because they don’t belong to that union. So I think this improves the process and ultimately is more responsible for taxpayers.”

Bob Swanson was the only no vote on the four-person board. He said the state took away rights the unions and state previously bargained for.

“The state agreed to them,” Swanson said. “The state ratified them. It just seems to me to totally destroy the collective bargaining system to unilaterally then abrogate those.”

Swanson is the only member not appointed by Governor Rick Snyder. He was appointed by former, democratic, governor, Jennifer Granholm.

There is no administrative process to appeal the board's decision. However, unions could try to take up the issues with the board in the future. A representative from the United Auto Workers says they don’t have anything planned yet.