County Votes to Renegotiate Union Contracts

On a 6-1 vote, Washtenaw County commissioners passed a resolution at their Feb. 6, 2013 meeting related to Michigan’s new right-to-work legislation – including direction to renegotiate union contracts. The resolution was brought forward by Andy LaBarre (D-District 7), one of three Ann Arbor commissioners on the nine-member board. [.pdf of LaBarre's resolution] Voting against the resolution was Dan Smith (R-District 2). Two commissioners – Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) and Alicia Ping (R-District 3) – were absent.

In addition to condemning the right-to-work law and urging the state legislature to pass SB 95 and SB 96 – bills that would repeal the law – LaBarre’s resolution also “directs the county administrator and the director of human resources to engage in expedited negotiations, as requested by the unions, with the goal of reaching four (4) year agreements to protect and extend each bargaining unit’s union security provisions, as well as enter into a letter of understanding separate from the existing collective bargaining agreements for a period of ten (10) years.”

This is the same approach recently authorized by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s board at its Jan. 17, 2013 meeting. [See Chronicle coverage: "AATA OK's Labor, Agency Fee Accords"]

LaBarre, who took office in early January, had previously indicated his interest in bringing forward a resolution opposing the right-to-work law. As chair of the board’s working sessions, he led a meeting on Jan. 3 with a lengthy discussion of that issue. [Chronicle coverage: "County Board Weighs Right-to-Work Response"]

The controversial right-to-work law was passed late last year by the Republican-controlled House and Senate, and signed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. The law, which takes effect in March, will make it illegal to require employees to support unions financially 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. On the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, seven of the nine commissioners are Democrats, including LaBarre.

Unions represent 85% of the 1,321 employees in Washtenaw County government.

At the Feb. 6 meeting, Dan Smith attempted to ascertain the cost to the county of entering into these new union agreements, if they are challenged in court. Curtis Hedger, the county’s corporation counsel, said he didn’t want to speculate about possible costs. He indicated that costs could vary widely, depending on how a case plays out in court and whether it is appealed.

Smith characterized the language in the resolution as “over the top” and said it contained offensive rhetoric. He told commissioners that he had crafted two alternative versions of the resolution – one that eliminated the offensive rhetoric [.pdf of Dan Smith's alternative resolution #1], and another that removed language that was extraneous to county policy [.pdf of Dan Smith's alternative resolution #2]. However, he did not formally offer the resolutions for consideration.

Before the vote, LaBarre defended his own resolution, saying it was important to show support for the workforce and that some form of action is warranted in this situation.

The board later entered into a nearly three-hour closed session for the purpose of discussing labor negotiation strategy. The meeting adjourned at approximately 11:30 p.m.

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