Michigan’s Winter of Discontent

As hard as Michigan’s winters can hit, so has our latest lame duck session.

Before last December, there were 23 states with fair bargaining bans, also known as “right to work” states. Sadly, the cradle of labor holds the title as number 24. On December 11th, the Michigan legislature rammed through numerous controversial bills, exploiting the advantage of a lame duck session.

Through a shameful display of cowardice, they passed so-called “right to work” legislation in record time with no debate in both the State House and Senate, no committee hearings and with a $1 million appropriation attached to it, effectively making it impossible to bring this issue to the voters in an election. “Why can’t you take this to the voters? Because you know what will happen. You’re doing this in the lame duck because you know in the next session you won’t have the votes!” Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids).

The Republicans chose to ignore their constituents, and rolled back decades of workers’ rights that many made deep sacrifices to achieve.

Now that the lame duck session is over, a new legislative session has begun. Along with it come concerns that banning fair bargaining in Michigan isn’t far enough for Republican legislators. The threat of privatization hangs over the heads of teachers and staff in our public schools. Possible efforts to roll back MIOSHA, the state agency overseeing worker safety, could make workplaces across Michigan even more unsafe.

But currently what concerns Working America’s members in Michigan the most is the repeal of Prevailing Wages. In government contracting, a prevailing wage is defined as the hourly wage, usual benefits and overtime, paid to the majority of workers, laborers, and mechanics within a particular area. These standards are crucial and necessary to provide a livable and fair wage to skilled workers that build our roads, highways, schools and other government funded projects.

When you eliminate the prevailing wage standard, it encourages contractors to take short cuts. It compromises work quality, increases injury rates and lost work time, and results in higher maintenance costs.

This will also bring more outsourcing into Michigan. Predatory contractors will gain the incentive to underbid established businesses by using unskilled or low-skilled workers that come from other parts of the country who are willing to work for less than the local labor market is paying.

Our organizers have been reaching out to members, and overwhelmingly they agree that this is the wrong direction to go.

“The state of Michigan’s economy is very important and fair wages must be paramount for the workers. As a stay at home mom it is important that the wages of my husband be protected. You can protect prevailing wage laws. Please keep the wages with the workers” says member Trisha Zessler of Monroe.

Rich CEO’s and their lobbyists would like to make you think that repealing prevailing wage would save taxpayers money. But in reality, it will cost us more in the long run. Pension plans that were previously privately covered will force tax payers to pick up the tab. Roads that were constructed and repaired by qualified and highly skilled workers will be built with lower standards, making it more likely to need repairs sooner and be replaced frequently. And you can count on dramatically slashed wages for our workers.

This is the last thing that we need here in Michigan. This isn’t carrying the message of more jobs. Instead, it is clearly sending a message that we deserve to be paid less and put more of our hard earned tax dollars in the pockets of rich CEO’s.

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Not Fast Enough? Michigan Republicans Hurting Working Families With Immediate Effect

Our Michigan Republican controlled legislature has been passing hundreds of privatization bills, while enjoying little attention from the press. Don’t they want credit for all their “hard work?” Or is there something they don’t want working families to find out?

546 of the bills that passed beginning in 2011, have been additionally “assigned (bill number) with immediate effect.” This means the bills will be implemented immediately and are not required to go through the mandatory minimum 90-day period before the new law can officially begin. Michigan’s constitution states that a two-third majority is required to enact immediate effect. Out of those 546 bills, it is impossible to know if the majority party had the needed two-thirds majority votes because the Leadership would not recognize requests for roll call votes, thus there is no record of who voted and how. What does this mean? A Michigan Court ruled the majority party is breaking the law.

Also, all these bills have something in common; they are all for-profit privatization and anti-working families. The majority party has acted on behalf of special corporate interests and forgotten their sworn pledge to represent the working families in their districts.  Most recently, their broken promises were found out, when they voted to support K12, Inc. at the expense of Michigan’s children’s. SB 619 or “The Cyber Schools” bill, siphons our hard-earned tax dollars from our children and community schools to expand experimental cyber-school education and increase K12, Inc. profits. Trying to deflect concerns of broken commitments to their constituents, they have argued in favor of isolating our kids, in a room all by themselves, with just the Internet, as a better education than in a classroom with fellow friends and a qualified teacher.

When learning of this, Working America members were outraged, so much so, they made hundreds of calls to their legislators. Here are just a few of our member’s reactions.

Michael Salib, retiree:

This is supposed to be a good idea? What about the fact most households have to have two working parents in order to survive? Which one of the two parents can stay home and make sure junior is attending computer classes each day? How do you learn to throw a football, learn an instrument or give a public speech without attending school with other people?

Michelle Gaw, working mother:

My kids could learn a bunch of facts on a piece of paper easily. But how are they going to learn other important things like working with others, making friends and other social interactions that you can get in a regular school?

After talking to thousands of members in dozens of communities and our members making hundreds of calls to their legislators, requesting they vote for our children and communities and vote no on SB 619, our members were stunned by the broken promises and the passing of SB 619, by a razor-thin 56-54 recorded vote.

The good news, Working America members are now paying attention! Now the people of Michigan know and are paying attention. Our lesson from K12, Inc. and the majority party is to remain engaged and collectively have our voices heard.

We Already Have a Right to Work: Michiganders Want to Keep Their Fair Share Rights

by Rafael Mojica – Ann Arbor, Michigan

As it does in many other states, the fight for fair wages and good jobs rages on here in Michigan. For many months now, Working America organizers have been going door to door meeting hard working Michiganders, asking them what issues are important to them and  listening to what their priorities are.

Resoundingly, more good jobs are the priority of working families in Michigan.

Since taking the oath of office, our new Governor Rick Snyder has waged a campaign against the wages, benefits, and rights of workers in Michigan – union and nonunion alike.

On June 21st, 2011, Snyder signed a budget into law that squarely laid the burden of balancing the state’s finances on the backs of the working people, while rich CEOs continue to get a free meal at taxpayer expense. The cost? 1.8 billion dollars in business tax cuts. After all is said and done, not much will be left for a tip. How are we, the taxpayers of Michigan, going to pay for this bill?

Governor Snyder has made that decision for us:

By cutting 300 million dollars from our children’s schools

  • Taxing our retiree’s pension funds
  • Eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Cutting 100 million dollars of aid for redeveloping our cities

The governor calls his budget a “shared sacrifice” approach, but all of the sacrifice is being taken on by the working families of Michigan.

Now, beginning in 2012, we are expected to participate in more “shared sacrifices” with lower wages and more cuts to our benefits. State Rep. Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) is planning on introducing anti-worker legislation that would make Michigan the 24th state to strip fair share rights from workers and employers–which Rep. Shirkey calls “right to work.”

For those who are not familiar with “Right to Work,” the name is deliberately deceptive. So-called “right to work” laws have been passed in 23 states, and pushed hard by business lobby groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It inserts the government into contracts between workers and businesses and bans workers from distributing the costs of union representation fairly.

Since we have 23 states worth of data on what effects these laws have, we know what will happen if Michigan passes this law:

Lower Wages – The average worker in a right to work state makes about $5,333 a year less than worker’s in other states ($35,500 compared with $30,167).

Fewer People with Health Care -21 percent more people lack health insurance in right to work states compared to collective-bargaining states.

Higher Poverty – Right to work states have a poverty rate of 12.5 percent, compared with 10.2 percent in other states.

Lower Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Workers Injured on the Job – Maximum weekly worker compensation benefits are $30 higher in collective-bargaining states ($609 versus $579 in right to work states).

More Workplace Deaths and Injuries – According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of workplace deaths is 51 percent higher in states with right to work.

These effects aren’t just statistics. Working America members Pamela and Frank Garcia of Adrian, wanted to make sure I shared their story about living in a so-called “right to work” state.

They recently moved from Arizona, where workers and employers don’t have fair share rights. They can tell you stories about how friends and family are forced to “accept the norm” that making minimum wage is enough to live on. Frank can tell you about how he was fired from his job because he stood up to his boss, who threw racial slurs at him on a daily basis. Pamela will describe her daughter’s delight when, after moving to Michigan, she learned how much she was going to make at her new job and that she was also going to receive benefits.

The Garcia family illustrates the stark contrast between Michigan and a so-called right to work state, where the rights of employees and employers to have fair share rights have been stripped.

It’s time to raise our collective voices and let Governor Snyder know that we want good jobs and fair wages here in Michigan. No games, no fair share bans, and no more taxpayer-funded paychecks for his rich CEO friends.

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