Latest Solidarity Issue

State employee unions taking it to the streets

UAW Local 6000 members rallied in Detroit in September.

As historic first-time coordinated contract negotiations between the State of Michigan and five state employee unions heat up this fall, UAW members who work for the state aren’t just demanding social and economic justice with their brothers and sisters at the bargaining table.

They’re fighting for it in the streets for their clients and fellow Michiganders.

On Oct. 1, about 41,000 Michigan residents – including 29,000 children – were thrown off the state’s welfare rolls under a new law passed by the majority Republican legislature and signed by Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. The new law limits Michigan residents to 48 months of lifetime welfare cash benefits.

“Our members are on the front lines every day to work for Michigan families and help them navigate a welfare system that is getting meaner by the day,” said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who directs the union’s Public Sector and Health Care Servicing Department and is leading first-time coordinated negotiations with the State of Michigan on behalf of 38,000 state workers represented by five state employee unions, including UAW Local 6000.

“Local 6000 members who work at the state’s Department of Human Services as social workers and welfare eligibility specialists have been outraged by this new law because every day they see the tragic consequences faced by their clients who wonder how they’ll survive now in a state where majority Republicans keep passing laws that don’t create one single job,” said Local 6000 President Ed Mitchell.

Local 6000 members were among hundreds of protesters at a Sept. 30 “Rally against Michigan Welfare Cuts” at the state’s Cadillac Square State Office Building in Detroit.

Rally signs reflected a strong push against the skewed priorities of a Republican-dominated legislature that has loudly proclaimed its allegiance to business at the expense of Michigan’s working families: “End Corporate Welfare.” “Stop Corporate Cash Assistance.” “Help the Poor.” “Hunger is Real.”

Those Republican lawmakers spent spring 2011 slashing the state’s budget to target children, college students and seniors by cutting $800 million in public education funding, imposing new taxes on pensioners, and eradicating the state’s earned income tax credit that was so important to Michigan’s working poor. When the dust settled, about $1.7 billion in new taxes had been placed on the backs of Michigan’s hard-working families and $1.8 billion in taxes had been eliminated for corporations and rich CEOs.

Fall 2011 promises to be as brutal as the spring, with the 48-month lifetime welfare cash assistance cap serving as a prelude to more ideological, job-killing laws from Republican lawmakers. Other legislation pushed since the summer recess ended includes bills calling for so-called right to work, a ban on union activity in the workplace for government employees and elimination of meaningful retiree health care for state employees.

In this anti-worker atmosphere, Estrada has been leading tough contract talks with the state along with leaders of Michigan AFSCME, Michigan State Employees Association, Michigan Corrections Organization and SEIU Local 517M. It’s the first time the five state labor unions have formally joined together to bargain economic terms with the State of Michigan.

“The state employee unions have worked together behind the scenes for years on bargaining issues, but this is the first time we all came together to sit across from the state employer and negotiate our compensation at the same bargaining table,” said Estrada. “We’ve been stronger together than we could be negotiating separately.

“It’s also the first time that we’ve joined together to put real ideas for state government structural change on the bargaining table,” Estrada added. “The state has to recognize that state budget savings can’t be placed on the backs of workers when there is such waste and inefficiency in state government. Our new solutions can save the state millions over the long haul by looking at the state’s management structure, its expensive privatization agreements and its inefficient work processes. Our members have great ideas, and we need an open and transparent process with management to get those ideas implemented, just as we’ve done in our agreements in the auto sector with such great success.”

While the unions hope they will reach a voluntary agreement with the state, mandatory Michigan Civil Service Commission rules and regulations govern the bargaining process, which includes impasse proceedings if a voluntary agreement can’t be reached.

The unions and the state employer already certified that they had not reached voluntary agreement on Sept. 16 so that they could invoke impasse assistance if needed. Impasse hearing dates are scheduled for the first half of November, with a recommended decision due from the impasse panel on Nov. 23. A final decision will be rendered at the Civil Service Commission’s Dec. 7 regular meeting. The parties are permitted to reach voluntary agreement up until the commission makes a decision.

“We’re hopeful that we can reach a voluntary agreement that contains real solutions for Michigan’s state workers and Michigan taxpayers,” Estrada said. “But without state government structural changes, we’re just going to see more families hurt by Republican budget slashing. Our members don’t want to see 29,000 more Michigan kids thrown into deeper poverty.”

Source: The UAW Public Sector and Health Care Servicing Department is directed by Vice President Cindy Estrada.

With UAW, workers at BCBS of Mich. are covered

Union members at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan recently ratified their contract by a 95 percent margin. More than 2,200 members covered under the new agreement will see their benefits, pay and pension increase.

The agreement includes pension increases in every year of the contract, providing members financial security in their retirement years. There are also pay increases of 2.5 percent annually for members not at the maximum pay grade. Members at the maximum pay grade will receive a 2.5 percent wage increase in 2011 and 2013, in addition to a $500 longevity bonus in 2012 and 2014. The union also negotiated a $2,000 ratification bonus for all employees covered under the contract. The negotiators also fought for an incentive payout plan for members in each year of the contract when corporate goals are met.

“In this day and age, we are proud to be able to deliver a contract to our membership at Blue Cross that offers financial security and benefits. Today’s climate is parasitic against working people, and the UAW is a defender of working people,” said UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles, who directs the union’s Insurance Department. “We will continue to fight for our members at the negotiating table and in the community for all working people.”

Members will also see a benefit increase in dental, vision and innovative ways to offset insurance premiums that better protect them from considerable costs in health care when they need it most.

The contract covers 2,200 UAW-represented BCBSM workers from UAW Locals 2256 (Lansing), 1781 (Southfield), 2500 (Detroit) and 2145 (Grand Rapids). The agreement was ratified Sept. 15. The new contract will expire Aug. 31, 2015.

Gwynne Marie Cobb