More than 100 people–including Dearborn police and fire union members, their families and friends–rallied in front of Dearborn Saturday afternoon, protesting a bill currently in the state House of Representatives that would repeal Public Act 312.
The act holds that if there is a labor dispute between a municipal government and its police or fire departments, the unions may not strike, but must instead go to binding arbitration. Under the law, a third party is brought in to hear all facts on the dispute and make a nonpartisan decision, which unions and governments are legally bound to follow. PA 312 has been in place since 1969.
On Feb. 8, Rep. Joe Haveman (R-Holland) introduced HB 4205, which, if passed, would repeal the act in its entirety.
Haveman told Grand Rapids talk radio station AM 1230 that the act created "disproportionate (wage) increases for police and fire over other employees," because, according to him, the binding arbitration favors unions and adds a high cost burden to city governments.
"It's just not sustainable," he said.
Firefighters and police say the act is desirable because it helps settle negotiations in a timely manner and helps mediate between their unions and government officials while ensuring that they remain at work.
Several legislators, as well as local unions, are not happy about the bill, and Dearborn’s own Rep. George Darany is leading the charge.
Darany and several other representatives hosted the weekend rally, reiterating their support for the act, which they say is critical to maintaining public safety, as it requires that police and firefighters not go on strike if a labor dispute arises.
“We will not stand for attacks against those who protect us, whether those are attempts to repeal public act 312, or attempts to gut our local government’s ability to keep you employed and to keep our families safe,” Darany told the crowd at the rally. “We still stand beside you; we will stand up for you.”
Darany added that he was happy to see his hometown of Dearborn leading the charge against the repeal.
“I’m proud to represent the community of Dearborn, where we are committed to protecting our police and firefighters,” he said. “Politicians are not supposed to make promises. But I made a promise to the police department and the fire department when I ran for state representative that I would do everything in my power to protect public act 312.”
Darany was joined Reps. Bob Constan (D-Dearborn Heights), Fred Durhal Jr. (D-Detroit) and Phil Cavanagh (D-Redford Township), who all echoed his message of support for PA 312.
“Act 312 has worked for 40 years and it works well,” Constan said. “Anyone who says that Act 312 is not effective is simply wrong.”
Durhal went the route of partisanship, blaming Republican leadership in Lansing for this sudden attempt to repeal the 42-year-old act.
“Republican lawmakers want to destroy a system that has worked for more than 40 years,” Durhal said. “I’m outraged that the governor and the republican legislature would believe that we would stand back and allow this kind of stuff to happen.
“This is a system that has enabled you to make a living for your families and protecting the lives of our residents and their families,” he continued. “I’m outraged that they want to blame you for the financial problems in this state. It’s not your fault.”
Several mentions were made to the idea that destroying means for fair and impartial negotiation of labor disputes would result in union strikes, leaving residents at risk without police and firefighters to protect them.
“These current attacks aren’t just attacks on firefighters and police,” said Dearborn Professional Firefighters Local 412 President Bruce Hamilton. “These are attacks on every citizen and every citizen’s security.”
Added Durhal of the motion to repeal PA 312: “It’s an attack on the middle class. It’s an attack on the people who serve Michigan and the people who keep Michigan safe.
“Today’s rally is just a taste of the power of the people.”
As such, Durhal and other legislators asked the PA 312 supporters to march on the Capitol on Feb. 23 against the repeal bill. That march and rally in Lansing is expected to take place around noon.