Minyao: Could you give me a brief introduction about Michigan State Employees Association (MSEA?)
Ken: The Michigan State Employees Association (MSEA) represents approximately 3,500 state workers in two bargaining units: Labor & Trades and Safety & Regulatory. We also represent workers at the power plant at Western Michigan University and at the Osceola County Road Commission.
Minyao: How many members does MSEA have?
Ken: We have approximately 3,500 members, which increases to about 5,000 during peak seasonal times of the year.
Minyao: What is MSEA position in terms of the Governor Snyder's report, which pointed out the huge gap between employee salary in public and private sectors.
Ken: In salary comparisons between private and public sectors, six out of the seven studies can point that the public employees benefits are LESS than the private sector, which is apparently defeat the seventh study which is what the Governor Snyder released sometime in February. Recent research by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence concludes that state and local public employees make 11 to 12 percent LESS in salary than those in the private sector, when education and experience are considered. State and local public employees' total compensation (including salaries and benefits) is approximately 7 percent less than that of private sector workers.
Minyao: As for the Governor's proposal, what will be bad outcomes or hurts for the public employees?
Ken: State workers are being blamed for an economic meltdown that isn't their fault. Instead of using a balanced approach to closing Michigan's budget gap, once again, state workers' pay and benefits are being threatened. Not even being considered are the wasteful state contracts which cost taxpayers millions and millions of dollars every year just because they're not properly administered and monitored. MSEA has done an extensive multi-year study that shows these very same contracts could be done by state workers at a fraction of the cost, thereby saving the state--and taxpayers--millions and millions of dollars.
In March 2011, Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette ruled that the state had to stop collecting the 3% of state worker wages to pay for retiree health care in retirement by April 1. However, the ruling was appealed and the 3% is now being deposited in an escrow account, pending resolution of the lawsuit filed by various unions, including MSEA. The matter will ultimately be decided by the Michigan Supreme Court.
Minyao: Michigan increase the tax in order to help the business, which other ways that you think could help the state to improve the economy with less hurting the public employees benefits.
Ken: State workers-like most public sector workers-have taken concessions amounting to $750 million since 2003 and negotiated concessions to the state of more than $50 million this year alone. The State of Michigan has reduced its workforce by nearly 10,000 state employees over the last decade. In many cases, state departments have been cut to the bone.
According to news reports, Gov. Snyder has hired people for his administration at fat, six-figure salaries-much more than similar positions were paid under the Gov. Granholm administration. And lawmakers are STILL getting their lifetime free medical benefits and are covered under a gold-plated pension plan instead of the 401K that state workers have.
The only people making wage and benefit concessions for the last 10 years have been state workers.
The Senate Reforms Restructuring and Reinventing Committee will vote on legislation (SJR C and SB 7) either the week of April 11 - 15 or the week of April 18-22. The Republican proposal would require all public workers to pay for 20% of the cost of their health insurance. Union officials have been testifying against the proposal, pointing out that public employees have made substantial concessions in recent years on pay and benefits. If the legislation passes, they will face those concessions plus a mandatory 20% contribution requirement to health care.
Minyao: What is the result that the labor unions want to gain after working with the Snyder Administration and the Legislature?
Ken: The Coalition of Unions, of which MSEA is a member, met with Gov. Snyder a couple of weeks ago. The governor indicated that he is still committed to $180 million in concessions from state workers for his proposed budget. MSEA told the governor that we want to be part of "Reinventing Michigan." We want to offer solutions.
Minyao: What other strategies, the union will use to reach the agreements with the Legislature? (Besides the rally, and the protest)
Ken: We are open arms attempting to communicate with Governor Snyder and his administration. In the latter part of November and the collation of state government unions, we sent Governor Snyder office a letter request, so we might be part of solution instead of casually of the action. I personally sent out the letter to his office and another when he made his transition to office on December 8th, so once again, we could part of the solution instead of causally of the action.
Meanwhile, MSEA has organized a UNITED VOICES CAMPAIGN, which is becoming increasingly effective. It is critical that our message be framed and communicated in such a way as to win over opponents and energize our members. In addition, it is critical to let legislators in our districts know that we are watching and that they will be held accountable for their votes, especially on anti-labor bills.
Besides, MSEA attended at a rally that saw about 5,000 people protest his anti-worker/middle class budget proposals.
Minyao: What is the Union's attitude towards the Michigan's Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) bill? Will the bill help the current Michigan's economy or it will harm the public employees benefits further.
Ken: In March 2011, Gov. Snyder signed emergency manager bills that will allow state officials to appoint managers with sweeping powers to take over financially troubled communities. My position with the Michigan's Emergency Financial Manager bill is that it is truly dictatorship. Under these new bills, if a community goes into receivership, then an emergency manager could take actions that include dissolving the community and merging it with other locales, as well as modifying or voiding labor contracts. MSEA opposes these bills, which are an attack on democracy and the Constitution. I think it was a committee hearing presented the question how many municipalities are in absolute crisis in the State of Michigan currently. After several testimonies against the Financial Manager bill, the committee passed the bill. They never did answer the question how many municipalities are in need or would be affected with this emergency manager's bill. Apparently it is the activity once an emergency manager is appointed by this governor administration for the Governor the application of the emergency manager is a dictatorship. With that said when totally agreement is suspended that affects not only immediate future but for four or five years, which is extensionally the time.
Minyao: When this bill passed would it harmful to the public employees?
Ken: While laws were already in place giving the state the authority to appoint financial managers, Gov. Snyder' bills will give the state an even greater ability to intervene early. The bills now give the state 18 potential triggers to indicate whether a local government has financial problems, including a local area's bond rating. Previously there were 14 such triggers.
Minyao: Compared with other states, such Wisconsin, Ohio and New Jersey, how do the unions attitudes towards Snyder Administration and the Legislature? (Does the Union feel the Administration did good job to negotiate with the Unions?)
Ken: Slashing and burning, cutting state workers, seeking more and more labor concessions have all been tried and failed. Cutting costs to the point at which the operation is no longer effective is not efficient. In fact, a November 24, 2010, Detroit News article entitled, "State agencies scramble to fill retirement openings," by Paul Egan, describes the crisis among state workers: "Key state agencies are scrambling to fill openings after nearly 4,800 state employees-40 percent more than anticipated-opted for early retirement at the end of this year." The State of Michigan has reduced its workforce by nearly 10,000 state employees over the last decade. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Michigan saw a decline of 36,400 public sector jobs between 2005 and 2008. In a survey released on October 11, 2010, by Wayne State University's Center for Urban Studies, more than two-thirds of Michigan residents surveyed (67.3%) want the state budget balanced using spending cuts coupled with tax and fee increases. When asked what areas of Michigan's budget they want to see cut, the majority of residents oppose budget cuts to public services.
In many cases, state departments have been cut to the bone. Our prisons are becoming overcrowded, making those worksites increasingly dangerous for the people who work there. Our streets have been rated the worst in the United States. Our Department of Human Services continues working more cases with fewer and fewer staff and is struggling to keep up with the record-setting 1.9 million Michigan residents currently receiving food assistance. We wish Governor Snyder was more open to conversations and making times for the union of the state of Michigan.
State workers are your neighbors and friends...and they're taxpayers, too. It's time for a new approach that recognizes the critical role state workers play in our society and in our economy.