Though Michigan’s unions have been the most vocal opponents of the emergency financial manager legislation, Dearborn firefighters say they’re more troubled by efforts to repeal or change Public Act 312.
On March 18, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law House Bill 4214, which grants broad powers to emergency financial managers–including dissolution of local political leadership and union contracts if they see it fit. Emergency financial managers can be put in place by Gov. Snyder at any time.
For union members like Dearborn Federation of Teachers President Chris Sipperly, the law is a slap in the face to unions that have been struggling with contract agreements.
The DFT has been in negotiations with the Dearborn Board of Education for two years, and appears to be close to reaching an agreement after going into fact-finding earlier this year.
But all of that could be for naught if Dearborn were declared to be in a state of financial emergency.
"This law is something that makes us angry," Sipperly said. "It's ridiculous. It's as if the state is purposely setting up the school to fail, and the district as well. The unions are right to be concerned about it."
Though the DFT hasn’t made a showing at any recent protests against the piece of legislation championed by Gov. Snyder, several members of the Professional Firefighters of Dearborn union have, despite the fact that the largest protests went on while they were all in promotions testing for their jobs.
Union president Joey Thorington said that five of his members went to Lansing, and that the union as a whole is concerned about the implications of the legislation.
“It’s very concerning,” he said. “The rights (emergency financial managers) have can completely disintegrate collective bargaining agreements. I recognize that something has to be changed in the way some of the cities are handled, but it just opens the door for a lot of corruption. When one person is in control, they’re more easily influenced and it takes power out of the people’s hands.
“The person is not held accountable to the public.”
Thorington acknowledges that he doesn’t see the legislation affecting Dearborn any time soon, but that his concern is that calling the shots on EFM in-statement is completely out of the city’s hands.
“It’s totally in the governor’s hands where that line is,” he said. “This governor may have the best intentions, but the next one may not. The next one may look at these cities that are doing OK, but struggling a little bit and … send somebody in.”
But of greater concern to the firefighters union than the emergency financial manager legislation is the possibility that Public Act 312–which calls for binding arbitration in contract disputes between municipalities and unions–may soon be a thing of the past.
Legislation to repeal PA 312 was introduced in the state House on Feb. 8 by Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland. If HB 4205 is passed, it will repeal the act in its entirety.
Gov. Rick Snyder, in a March 21 message to the state legislature, outlined his plan for local government reform. Included in that was a suggestion that PA 312 should be reformed, although Snyder did not go so far as to call for its repeal.
“The concept of binding arbitration is not the problem–the problem is the way it is applied,” Snyder wrote. “Binding arbitration should be viewed as the last option and not the inevitable last step in a collective bargaining process.”
Snyder suggested that amendments be made to the act so that
- A community’s ability to pay should be a fundamental factor in an arbitrator’s decision.
- Internal salary and benefit comparisons should also be considered by an arbitrator.
- Both sides should be required to submit a last best offer before entering into binding arbitration.
- The process of binding arbitration should last no more than 90 days.
When word of the possible repeal got out, local fire and police union members at Dearborn –and then in –against the bill.
The bill has not made any movement through the House in over a month.
Thorington is hopeful that PA 312 will remain intact–a matter he says is much more important to fire and police unions than the emergency financial manager legislation.
“Public Act 312 is more of a critical issue for us,” he said. “They’re both critical, but Public Act 312 is a direct influence every time we go to negotiations, where as (EFM legislation) is only when cities get in trouble. That won’t affect every bargaining decisions that are made. Public Act 312 will.”