Full-Bore Assault in the Midwest

updated February 24

The Midwest has become the flashpoint, as unions and their allies fight a raft of union-busting bills and ballot measures that look to limit workers’ rights and curb union power. Here’s a round-up of what’s at stake. (Don't miss today's story on the mounting resistance to these attacks.)


Legislation would eliminate collective bargaining for public employees on all matters except wages—but any increase more than the consumer price index would require approval by the voters. Public employee unions would be barred from collecting member dues through payroll deductions and there would be no requirement that employees pay union dues at all. Bargaining units would have to hold an annual certification vote in order to maintain representation. Public employees and teachers would take an 8 percent pay cut to fund their pensions and health insurance.


State employees, including those in higher education, would lose the right to bargain collectively. Local government workers and teachers could bargain, but not over health insurance. Merit pay would replace salary schedules. One version of the proposed legislation would strip the right to strike for state workers. Another would allow local government workers to strike, but would permit governments to permanently replace workers who strike. All public employees would pay at least 20 percent of their health care costs. Teachers would lose seniority and automatic step increases. Binding arbitration could no longer be used to resolve deadlocks in union-management negotiations.


Legislators are considering bills to make the state right to work, and to extend vouchers to send children to private school. Teachers would be barred from bargaining on anything but wages and benefits. Other proposals would undermine construction worker pay by changing the prevailing wage law to exempt more projects, and would ban Project Labor Agreements, which guarantee union standards and wages on construction jobs. They are also considering a bill to prevent future governors from agreeing to collective bargaining with state workers, currently at the governor's discretion.


Republican legislators have proposed a raft of bills that threaten labor and public services. One would repeal the state’s health and safety act and prohibit rules on ergonomic safety. Others would cut public employees’ wages 5 percent and freeze them for three years. Prevailing wage laws would be repealed. Teacher tenure and due process rights would be weakened and the state cap on the number of charter schools allowed would be removed. Pensions would be taxed for the first time.

At the same time Republican Governor Rick Snyder is proposing sweeping cuts to services and jobs—while simultaneously seeking $1.8 billion in business tax cuts.



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College and university funding would be cut 15 percent. State funds in K-12 would be cut by $474 per pupil—enough to bankrupt many school districts. The Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income people would be axed. Libraries, prisons, and state police would all be cut.

Towering above all these measures is a group of bills called the Emergency Financial Manager package, which passed the House February 23 on a party-line vote and should pass in the Senate as well. Emergency management will allow the state to put financially troubled cities or school districts into receivership, to be run by a manager appointed by the state treasurer.

The emergency manager will have enormous powers, including the ability to cancel or renegotiate union contracts. Elected officials in the affected entities—such as school board members, mayors, city councilors—can be dismissed and may not run for the same office for 10 years. The emergency manager can also decide to dissolve local government entities or recombine them.

The treasurer will have broad powers to review a school district or local government’s finances. For example, a review could be triggered by a creditor who hadn’t been paid for six months.

Another of the governor’s measures would make even more entities vulnerable to takeover. Snyder wants to eliminate $300 million of state revenue-sharing with local governments—used to fund basic services such as police and firefighting—and instead have localities bid competitively for a $200 million pot.

Localities with “best practices”—presumably defined by Snyder, until this year a businessman—would be favored.