August Legislative Report
Although the Legislature has been on summer break since June, that does not mean that nothing is happening in Lansing. Plenty of officials and legislators are planning rule changes or legislation that will begin moving in the fall. The Civil Service Commission recently proposed new rules that would severely curtail collective bargaining rights for state workers. The Legislature is also making preparations for major changes to Michigan’s Auto No-Fault insurance system, unemployment insurance laws, and statutes governing municipal pensions. Meanwhile there are always the ever-present threats of bills to amend the Public Employee Relations Act that would further erode public employee rights.
The Legislature will return to session on September 8. They will remain in session through the end of the year taking extended breaks for deer season (what we in Lansing call the “Bambi Break”) and the holidays.
Civil Service Commission Proposes Rules to Curtail Bargaining Rights for Unions
On August 9, State Personnel Director Janine Winters issued a document of proposed Civil Service rule changes that would severely curtail the ability of collective bargaining units representing state employees to negotiate on a number of subjects. Ms. Winters stated in a memo accompanying the proposed changes that the impetus for them was the current complex system pertaining to bumping rights, leave time, and other employment issues, and that the proposed changes would help “streamline” the process. Representatives state employee collective bargaining units (unions) are strongly opposed to the changes, stating that these changes would “streamline the process” much the same way that removing the Bill of Rights would “streamline” the criminal justice system.
The proposed changes include:
- Adding a prohibited subject on the employer’s right to assign staff. This would affect several contractual provisions on bumping, transfers, recall, scheduling, overtime assignment, and seniority.
- Ending mandatory statewide recall lists, while preserving agency recall lists.
- Adding a prohibited subject on employer-paid union leaves and a new rule allowing each recognized union paid leave for one employee’s full-time absence.
- Adding prohibited subjects of critical-position premium and performance-pay systems.
- Standardizing the process by which employees can authorize dues deductions.
- Reorganizing and streamlining the list of prohibited subjects.
- Reinstituting rules of general applicability to allow emergent situations to be promptly addressed.
Each of these changes allows the employer to make arbitrary decisions regarding significant areas of state employment – something that the Civil Service system itself was created to curtail. Allowing the state employer alone to determine, without any negotiation with employee representatives, procedures for items such as recalls, bumping rights, and performance-pay systems would strip away vital protections against political interference in state employment.
The most troubling proposal, however, would implement a new rule creating a pilot program that would allow agencies to increase compensation for what they deem “mission-critical” positions filled by non-exclusively represented employees. These individuals could see large bumps in salary solely at the behest of an agency head. Like the other proposed changes, this new rule would further erode protections against cronyism and patronage in the Civil Service system.
The Civil Service Commission will meet to vote on these proposed rule changes on September 20 at the Capitol Commons Center located at 400 S. Pine Street in downtown Lansing. Individuals and organizations wishing to make written comments on the proposed rules have until September 6 to submit them.
State Employees Would Lose Live-in Benefits Under Planned Legislation
Senator Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) and Representative Jim Runestead (R-White Lake) have announced plans to introduce legislation that would prohibit state workers from providing state health care benefits to persons who live with them. Not all state employee contracts have the provision, but it was originally allowed during the Granholm administration as a way to circumvent a constitutional ban on same-sex partnership benefits. Now that same sex marriages are allowed in Michigan, Senator Jones and Representative Runestead contend that provisions by which a state employee may extend health care benefits to anyone living in the same household should be rescinded.
One major question is whether the Legislature has the authority to enact legislation affecting state workers, since the Michigan Constitution places that under the bailiwick of the Civil Service Commission. Similar legislation passed years ago that banned live-in benefits for public employees exempted state workers so as not to create a conflict with the Michigan Constitution. Approximately 100 state employees currently take advantage of the provision to provide health care benefits to individuals living with them.
The legislation will likely be introduced sometime this fall.
Campaign 2018 Heating Up
As of this writing, five candidates have declared for Governor in the Republican primary alone. Even more bizarre is the fact that none of the declared candidates are favored to win the primary. On the Democratic side, only four have already declared, but there are still some interesting possibilities lurking in the wings. Perhaps it’s the Trump effect, perhaps it is because we have had nearly 7 years of solid one-party rule in Michigan, or perhaps it has something to do with the solar eclipse – but we are set to have a record number of candidates for Governor in the Republican and Democratic primaries, the vast majority of whom few have ever heard of.
On the Republican side, conventional wisdom has Attorney General Bill Schuette or possibly Lt. Governor Brian Calley vying for the GOP nomination for Governor. Neither of them have actually filed to run at this time. Instead, the current Republican candidates are State Senator Patrick Colbeck, insurance agent Joseph DeRose, physician Jim Hines, former Taxpayer Party candidate Mark McFarlin, and businessman Evan Space. Frankly, no one in Lansing gives any of these candidates much of a chance to actually win the nomination. On the other hand, eight years ago today no one in Lansing had even heard of a guy named Rick Snyder – so anything is possible.
The Democrats have one fairly well-known candidate in former State Senator Gretchen Whitmer, and several others who are virtual unknowns. What makes the Democratic unknowns more interesting than the GOP unknowns is that they are actually raising a lot of money. Gretchen Whitmer, who was the first to declare her candidacy back in January, has raised over $1 million so far. But that is matched or even exceeded by both businessman Shri Thanedar and former Detroit Health Department Director Dr. Abdul El-Sayed who have also hit the $1 million mark. In the case of Mr. Thanedar, the bulk of his fundraising came from his own pocketbook as he has put in over $3 million of his own money to his campaign. Another Democratic candidate, retired Xerox executive William Cobbs is also campaigning primarily on his own funds, though at a much smaller scale than Mr. Thanedar. Two other candidates have filed in the Democratic primary – EMS driver Kentiel White of Southgate and Justin Giroux – but they have not filed campaign finance reports.
Other Democrats rumored to be considering entering the race for governor include Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, and attorney Geoffrey Fieger who was routed as the Democrats’ standard bearer in 1998. In fact, early polls show Fieger as a potential front runner along with Gretchen Whitmer should he enter the Democratic primary race.