County Board to Discuss “Right to Work”

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners will hold a special working session on Thursday, Jan. 3 to discuss how “right to work” legislation – passed by the lame duck state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder in mid-December – will affect the county. The special session was set during the board’s first meeting of the year, on Jan. 2, 2013.

In an email sent to commissioners and commissioners-elect on Dec. 30, Yousef Rabhi – who was elected chair earlier at the Jan. 2 meeting – announced the intent to call a special session: “Second, there is a group of Commissioners (myself included) that wish to call a Special Working Session on January 3rd at 6:00 pm. Technically, this could have been done last year as there was more than 1/3 of the Board that desired to call the meeting. However, Curt [Hedger, the county's corporation counsel] advised that it would be best to call the meeting from the floor of the BOC meeting. The meeting would be for the purpose of discussing the implications of the ‘Right to Work’ legislation on the County.”

The state law – supported by the Republican-controlled House and Senate and the Republican governor – made it illegal to require employees to financially support unions as a condition of their employment. It’s viewed by Democrats as a way to undercut support for labor organizations that have historically backed the Democratic Party. The legislation, which will take effect in March of 2013, received national attention. It followed a failed ballot initiative by labor to protect collective bargaining rights in the state Constitution. That effort – Proposal 12-2 – was not supported by a majority of voters in the Nov. 6 election. [links to Public Act 348 of 2012 and Public Act 349 of 2012]

The majority of the county government’s 1,321 employees are represented by labor unions. All but two of the nine county commissioners are Democrats. The Republican commissioners are Dan Smith (District 2) and Alicia Ping (District 3). Both Smith and Ping told their fellow commissioners that they were interested in focusing on how the county might be affected, both in terms of the county government employees as well as the impact on the local economy. However, both also indicated that they did not want the board to advocate for the repeal of the legislation. Andy LaBarre, an Ann Arbor Democrat who had been elected chair of the working session earlier in the meeting, said the session is intended to be broad based, and could include a discussion about how the board would like to voice the sentiment of the county on this legislation.

The Jan. 3 special session, which is open to the public, begins at 6 p.m. at the boardroom of the county administration building, 220 N. Main in Ann Arbor.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]