Today, Feb. 24, unions at this university are meeting to “discuss strategies to counter threats to collective bargaining rights here in Michigan and ways to express solidarity with state workers in Wisconsin and Ohio, whose collective bargaining rights are hanging in the balance,” according to an e-mail sent out by AAUP President and Professor Ron Sundell.
I’m proud of the unions at this university for taking a stand. I’m also glad to be living in a state where both the protesters and the lawmakers are respectful of one another.
We’ve had our problems here in Michigan, arguably more than most states over the last decade. But while many other Republicans in state legislatures and governorships are seeking to force their decisions on their own budget deficits without support, often putting collective bargaining and education funding on the chopping block, our own lawmakers are doing something different. They’re being reasonable.
In Ohio, for example, after an attempt by Gov. John Kasich to end collective bargaining in the state, protesters made their voices heard. They urged the governor to allow the Ohio Highway Patrol to re-open the doors of the statehouse, which had been locked to keep them out. After a few days of protest, Ohio legislators made a compromise. According to the Associated Press, legislators in Ohio plan to change the wording of the bill to allow public employees the chance to negotiate wages, but would ban them from striking. Effectively, this isn’t a compromise at all –– it’s not being reasonable. It’s trading one restriction for another.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has rejected every compromise on collective bargaining that he has been offered according to the Washington Post. He has steadfastly refused to negotiate. Protesters have been going strong in the state capital, Madison, for over a week now –– still, no change in the man’s position. Every action, every word –– the man has not budged.
Last Wednesday, many Madison schools shut down because 40 percent of employees were expected to participate in a “sick-out.” Unionized teachers and professors called in sick and the schools shut down accordingly.
In the days that followed, some teachers and professors continued to call in sick – others just stopped coming. Instead of dealing with the problem, Walker is ignoring it, seeking to continue his agenda of ridding the state of collective bargaining rights.
Snyder, on the other hand, when hearing about the protests outside the Capitol, told bloomberg.com, “This is part of democracy. I just hope we do it in a civilized fashion and have an open dialogue.”
The cynic in me wants to point out that of course he said that. That’s what politicians do –– put a good spin on things. But it’s clear Snyder means it. He’s got a good track record of having real negotiations to settle things.
In January, Snyder invited all 15 public university presidents to Lansing to talk about the future of higher education in the state. At the meeting, he warned the presidents about cuts to their funding – and urged them to help him return the state to prosperity. Snyder didn’t have to do that. A governor like Walker likely wouldn’t have. But it was important to our governor that these presidents knew what was on the horizon, so it wouldn’t blind them.
Similarly, according to an article in the Detroit Free Press, Snyder has denied claims by his counterpart in Wisconsin that he’s out to end collective bargaining rights in Michigan.
Here in Michigan, the main threat to unions seems to be his proposal to give more powers to emergency financial managers, who are appointed by the governor to manage cities and school districts in financial crises –– including granting them the power to terminate union contracts, if necessary.
Wisconsin serves as a warning sign. As AFL-CIO Michigan President Mark Gaffney put it, “If individual legislators begin acting like they’re acting in Wisconsin, then we’ll be forced to act like Wisconsin, too.” So far, it looks like it’s not coming to that.
Snyder said in a speech recently that Michigan isn’t Wisconsin. “We’re two very different states,” he said.
I hope he and other lawmakers maintain their rationality. Let’s negotiate, rather than bring ourselves into the kind of deadlock seen in Wisconsin, or even the kinds of deadlocks we used to see between former Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop.
We’ve elected rational people to office –– now they’re repaying us by doing their job, rather than letting it escalate like in Wisconsin.