Rick Snyder, Michigan governor, claims “Michigan is not Wisconsin”. People take this to mean Snyder doesn’t want to bust unions. That’s wrong. What Snyder means is he’s going to use a different strategy than Walker in Wisconsin. Walker is a bare-knuckle street fighter. Snyder hires a hit-man. Snyder smiles, tells you what you want to hear, lies about his priorities, and then has his hit-men crush you. Snyder claims he wants to negotiate with unions and isn’t out to “bust the unions”. So far, Rick Snyder has largely gotten a free pass compared to Scott Walker in Wisconsin. The national news media concentrates on Wisconsin and the protests are largest there. But part of the attention in Wisconsin is because in Wisconsin the power grab to end collective bargaining rights has been so blatant, so clear. It’s made great theater. And the media love theater.
In Michigan, the effort to end bargaining rights and to bust unions is apparently just as strong, but it’s more subtle, more sophisticated. In Wisconsin, you only have to read a single proposed bill to see that they want to end collective bargaining rights. In Michigan, you have to connect the dots to see the pattern.
First off, there are over 40 anti-union bills that have been introduced in the Michigan legislature since January 1 that have consequences for unions. In some cases, it’s not just public employee unions under assault, it’s private unions too. In Michigan there isn’t one bill that does the big repeal of rights. It’s lots of bills each chipping away at one right or another. In one case, the bill doesn’t repeal collective bargaining rights for the private sector in all Michigan, just in to-be-named-later “zones”. In another bill, a specific work rule bargaining right is over-ruled for teachers. It’s the death of collective bargaining by a million cuts.
If all these bills pass, and there’s no indication from Snyder that he would veto any of them, they mark a significant roll-back of collective bargaining rights in Michigan. But there’s a hidden strategy that’s even bigger. Many of the bills are about increasing the autocratic powers of “emergency financial managers”. In Michigan “emergency financial managers” are appointed by the Governor and state Treasurer. These emergency financial managers are appointed to take-over the management of local school boards, cities, counties, or townships that encounter financial difficulties. Emergency financial managers are not accountable to local residents or voters at all. They report only to the governor. Further, emergency financial managers have the powers to unilaterally revoke all union contracts and negotiations. Snyder and the Republicans are moving swiftly to increase the already hefty power of these emergency financial managers. A spokesman for the Republican majority leader in the legislature claims these bills are not about busting unions but about “protecting municipalities from bankruptcy. From The Detroit News:
“We’re not out to destroy anything, we’re out to help everybody,” Marsden said.
“That plan is aimed at keeping municipalities from falling into bankruptcies that will cost people jobs.
But if the objective is to protect municipalities from bankruptcy, why are the biggest budget cuts aimed at revenue sharing and schools? Right now “emergency financial managers” seem only like a hypothetical to most residents and voters. After all there are only 4-5 such financial managers in the state. Detroit Public Schools and the cities of Pontiac, Ecorse, and Highland Park have them (there maybe another one or two, I’m not sure). But after the budget is implemented there will be a LOT of cities and school districts in serious financial trouble. Then the governor appoints his emergency financial managers. Then the union contracts can be nullified. All without legislation.
Wisconsin gets the attention and Walker takes the heat. Meanwhile, Snyder moves quietly, counting on people not connecting the dots until it’s too late and it’s done. It’s important to maintain collective bargaining.