By Charles Sercombe
If Republican lawmakers in Lansing have their way – and it looks like they will – the days of iron-clad union contracts will become a thing of the past.
While not taking unions directly head-on, there is pending legislation that would broaden the power of state appointed Emergency Financial Managers (EFM) that would allow them to tear up existing union labor contracts.
That means an EFM could decide on his own how much to pay union workers and what kind – if any – of benefits they would get.
It’s the kind of thing management could only dream of in years past. And now the once mighty unions may find themselves as relics of history.
The gravity of the pending change is not lost on some of Hamtramck’s unionized public workers.
We talked to the heads of the fire and police department unions. The union president representing City Hall AFSCME workers, Andrea Karpinski, declined to discuss the matter until after an executive board meeting held on Thursday, the day The Review went to press.
William Diamond, the president of the firefighters’ union, said he and his fellow firefighters are deeply concerned about the ability of an EFM to discard their contract.
“It’s scary times,” Diamond said. “With (Gov.) Snyder in there, we don’t know what’s going on.”
Snyder has not said what he thinks of the pending legislation, but he, too, is a Republican. The state legislature has a Republican majority.
Diamond said he is more concerned about what’s happening in Wisconsin where Gov. Scott Walker is attacking unions head-on. Walker says he won’t budge from his position to do away with the unions’ collective bargaining rights.
“He’s crazy,” Diamond said of Walker. “If that passes over there it will be a floodgate for the rest of the states.”
Diamond joined hundreds of other public safety officers last week in Lansing to talk with legislators.
The general move of Republican lawmakers to take on unions, Diamond said, is nothing less than “union busting.”
“They’re trying to get rid of the middle-class,” he added.
Over at the police officers’ union, Jon Bondra, the FOP president for Hamtramck, said much the same thing.
“Any change to Act 72 to give an Emergency Financial Manager more power to break collective bargaining agreements, will put the public’s safety at risk,” Bondra said in an email. “The protections afforded by collective bargaining insure fair contracts for public workers.”
Bondra also warned that if collective bargaining rights are removed, it’s likely officers would seek employment in another state. But in this climate of one state after another, at least here in the Midwest, heading toward restricting union rights, just where would officers go?
That question and many more have yet to be fully explored.