My grandfather spent 20 years of his life working in a Detroit factory.
He worked hard for what he earned. He trusted that sacrificing some of his pay to invest it in a pension would pay off after years of hard work. So that’s what he did. He retired, and his pension allowed him to provide for himself and my grandmother.
He and his coworkers knew that the pensions that they invested in were a valuable part of their income, not just a handout from their employer.
Right now, in Detroit, Emergency Financial Manager Kevyn Orr doesn’t see pensions the same way.
A quick review: In 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder and his allies in the Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill allowing entire cities to be taken over by “emergency financial managers.” These EFMs, appointed by the governor, were allowed to completely overrule decisions made by local elected leaders.
What Orr isn’t saying is what these workers sacrificed to protect their pensions. They accepted pay cuts, health insurance cuts and cuts to future pension benefits just to guarantee that the pensions they had worked a lifetime for would be there for them when they retired.
This is unacceptable, and we need to do better.
We can’t allow the wealthy elite like Snyder and Orr to take away hard-earned income from working families. Workers like my grandfather worked, saved, and sacrificed for years to make sure their pension would be there. It’s not a piggy bank for Orr and his rich friends to play with.
Apart from the elections for President, U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, and local races, Michigan voters have opportunities on the non-partisan section of the ballot that might trump all others: making two key changes to their state constitution. Voting No on Proposal 1 would the new law that allows the Governor to appoint “emergency managers” that have the power to override local governments by removing locally-elected officials. Voting Yes on Proposal 2 would enshrine the right of workers to bargain collectively in the state constitution, protecting Michigan workers from the anti-worker attacks we’ve seen in this state and across the country.
No on Proposal 1. When the Republican-controlled Michigan legislature passed “Public Act 4” in 2011, one commentator called it “the most radical thing in American politics in this fairly radical year.” Under the guise of “fiscal responsibility” Governor Rick Snyder gained the ability to appoint “emergency managers” (EMs) to take control of local governments.
Under the new law, these EMs can unilaterally seize and sell city assets, outsource public jobs to private and/or out of state companies, lay off thousands of employees, change or terminate contracts, suspend contracts and collective bargaining agreements, and even dissolve or merge whole cities, towns, and school districts.
The abuses of these EMs have been numerous. In Benton Harbor, a majority African-American community in Southwestern Michigan, an EM dissolved the entire town council. Public workers in Pontiac saw their union contract invalidated. EM Roy Roberts closed 15 schools in Detroit and fired thousands of teachers, and those who remained had a bad contract imposed on them.
The EM law isn’t just undemocratic and unfair; it’s also been a failure. Flint, Pontiac, Benton Harbor, and other communities are not better off because of any action by EMs. These communities weren’t in trouble because of mismanagement, they were in trouble because they are manufacturing centers at a time when manufacturing is in a decline; their infrastructure is in need of repair; and their citizens aren’t doing well enough to create a stable tax base.
These problems require attention, but the solution must match the problem. These cities need to be built back up – there is no cause for dissolving local democratic rule. That is, and we use the term carefully, un-American. Vote No on Proposal 1.
Yes on Proposal 2. With the attacks on workers’ rights of 2011 – Senate Bill 5 in Ohio and Governor Walker in Wisconsin, for example – Michigan workers decided to take action. Proposal 2 does not change current rights for union or non-union workers, it simply guarantees the current right for all Michigan workers to Collectively Bargain by adding it to the state Constitution. This proactive measure will stop so-called “right to work” laws and other measures that threaten the right to organize.
In 1989, the average Michigan worker earned over $52,000 a year. In 2010, that number had dropped 11 percent, even though according to the Economic Policy Institute, average productivity has increased 30 percent. That shift can be tied directly into the loss of collective bargaining and the attacks on union rights in that time period.
Although Prop 2 would not make any major changes to existing law, it has been subject to an incredible smear campaign of over $20 million. So let’s get some things straight: Prop 2 would not force anyone to join a union, which is illegal under federal law. Prop 2 will not raise your health care premiums. Prop 2 will not, as one ad claims, allow teachers to get away with inappropriate behavior in the classroom. That’s ridiculous, and no amount of money from the Koch Brothers, Michelle Rhee, or right-wing think tanks will make it true.
But there are real, dangerous consequences to so-called “right to work” laws, which Prop 2 prevents. Eight of the 12 states with the highest unemployment rates are “right to work” states. In a “right to work” state, wages and benefits are lower, and workplace accidents and injuries are more common.
When workers have their rights protected, everyone wins. States with higher levels of collective bargaining have lower poverty levels, high average incomes, higher educational outcomes, and better health insurance coverage for all workers, not just union workers.