As protests in Lansing heat up over what demonstrators are viewing as attacks on organized labor, union officials are again crying foul as the GOP-lead state House of Representatives — along party lines, 63-47 — has passed legislation introduced by an Oakland County lawmaker that would prohibit wage increases for public school employees who are working after a collective bargaining agreement has expired.
State Reps. Eileen Kowall (R-Highland, White Lake), Bill Rogers (R-Milford), Chuck Moss (R-Orchard Lake), Hugh Crawford (R-Walled Lake, Wixom), and Gail Haines (R-Waterford, West Bloomfield) voted in favor of House Bill (HB) 4152 on Thursday, March 10.
State Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield, Commerce, Wolverine Lake) voted against the bill. Messages left at her Lansing office went unreturned prior to press time.
Under the legislation — which also cleared the state Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, March 16 and moved to the full state Senate for their consideration — step wage increases would be frozen and public school employees would be required to pay for any increase in insurance benefits at the point in time that a contract expired and until a new one took effect.
A Senate vote on the bill was expected yesterday, Tuesday, March 22 after press time.
The Michigan Education Association (MEA) contends that some have been wondering whether those provisions would cause local school districts to stall negotiations.
Dave Stafford, a lobbyist with the MEA, also said that the legislation flies in the face of a two-decade-old Court of Appeals ruling stating that when a contract expires, those terms and conditions carry forward unless the employer bargained to change them.
Stafford also said that the step payments, because they are previously agreed-upon and are tied to years of service and number of academic degrees, are “usually not in dispute.”
“Even when the steps are not in question, where the employer has agreed to pay them, nevertheless the Legislature is going to dictate that they can’t pay those steps,” Stafford said, adding that the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) is actively pushing for the legislation. “This bill says there can’t be retroactive pay, which is one more way of chipping away at the rights of employees.”
“Let me be clear, this bill is not an attack on labor,” lead bill sponsor Rep. Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy) stated in a press release. “This is an effort to restore fairness in school contract negotiations, and give both sides an incentive to bargain responsibly.”
The legislation, which is expected to cruise through the state Senate, would also ban a district and a union from agreeing to, or an arbitration panel from ordering, retroactive wage or benefit levels or amounts that were greater than those in effect on the expiration date of the agreement, according to legislative analysts.
“Yes, I know the raises are collectively bargained, but schools are having financial issues and part of the problem is that they are locked into contracts where there is no incentive for the union to bargain,” Moss said. “Those step increases are still enforced and they are still getting raises year after year.”
State Sen. Mike Kowall (R-Commerce, Highland, Milford, Walled Lake, Wixom, Wolverine Lake, White Lake, Orchard Lake, West Bloomfield), who will be tackling the bills in the state’s upper chamber and has “just started looking at it,” denied assertions that public labor unions are being targeted unfairly in the GOP-dominated state Legislature.
“I don’t think that’s the case at all,” he said. “I think the essence of the bill is to keep everybody at the table negotiating.”