Right-to-Work Response Gets Final OK

Washtenaw County commissioners gave final approval to a resolution opposing Michigan’s new right-to-work legislation, with a clause that directs the county administration to renegotiate union contracts. The action took place at the board’s Feb. 20, 2013 meeting. Initial approval had been given on Feb. 6, with a 6-1 vote. The dissenting vote was cast by Dan Smith (R-District 2), who also voted against the resolution on Feb. 20. Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) and Alicia Ping (R-District 3) were absent at that Feb. 6 meeting.

On Feb. 20, the final vote was 8 6-2, with dissent from the board’s two Republican commissioners – Dan Smith and Alicia Ping (District 3). Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) was 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 – the 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 same approach was 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"]

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.

Unions represent 85% of the 1,321 employees in Washtenaw County government. Several commissioners have been vocal advocates in opposition to the new law. Those views were aired on Jan. 3 with a lengthy discussion of the right-to-work issue. [Chronicle coverage: "County Board Weighs Right-to-Work Response"]

At their Feb. 6 meeting, when the resolution received initial approval, the board also held a closed session that lasted nearly three hours, for the purpose of discussing labor negotiation strategy. On Feb. 20, commissioners again met with staff for a closed session on collective bargaining, which lasted about 90 minutes.

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