Michigan Senate OKs ban on taxpayer-paid union release time
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — School districts and other public employers would have to stop providing taxpayer-funded leave time for employees to conduct union business under legislation that was narrowly approved Tuesday by the Republican-led Michigan Senate.
The bill, which passed 20-18 primarily along party lines, with seven Republicans opposed, was sent to the GOP-controlled House, where a committee planned to consider a similar measure later this week. The Senate vote was among the first in what will be a monthlong “lame-duck” session — a last chance for lawmakers to approve legislation before Republican Gov. Rick Snyder makes way for the Democratic governor-elect, Gretchen Whitmer.
The main bill would prohibit many public entities from entering into or renewing bargaining agreements that require or allow paid release time for an employee to conduct union business if it is funded by the public employer. Another bill would bar school workers from accruing service credit toward their pensions while on union release time.
“Bills like this only serve one purpose — they’re just another step in the systematic destruction of unions and workers’ rights,” said Sen. Vincent Gregory, a Southfield Democrat and retired sheriff’s detective who was a union leader. He said union leave time arrangements are an efficient, cost-effective way to quickly resolve employee disputes, disciplinary issues and other matters, and they help not just workers but also management.
The sponsor of the legislation, Republican Sen. Marty Knollenberg of Troy, said it is geared primarily at labor contracts within public education. The Michigan Civil Service Commission voted last year to limit state-paid leave time for employees to work on union-related matters, effective in 2019.
“It’s really about protecting taxpayer money,” Knollenberg said. “If a person is doing union business, then a union should pay for it. I’m not suggesting that they can’t take leave time. I just don’t think taxpayers should pay for it.”
The proposed restriction would not apply to police, firefighters, corrections officers and employees of a transit authority that seeks or receives federal funding.
Knollenberg said the “work scope” for teachers differs from the job functions of law enforcers and emergency responders, who must “react at a moment’s notice” while educators can handle collective bargaining issues “any time” after classroom hours are over. Opponents counter, however, that the legislation would make scheduling meetings between teachers and administrators more challenging, adding that release time saves districts on human resources costs.
The nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency says 2015 data show that 67 of Michigan’s 545 traditional K-12 school districts had employer-paid leave or release time for union officers, which cost about $2.7 million a year. The main bill could lead to $2.7 million in savings annually unless other concessions were negotiated in lieu of union leave time provisions, according to the analysis .
The other bill, however, could lead to $400,000 in additional spending because of “stranded” pension costs associated with employees who continued to go on leave.
Similar legislation cleared one chamber or the other in 2011 and 2015 but never reached the desk of Snyder.