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Emergency Manager law quickly impacting unions in Michigan

The new law that allows the governor to appoint Emergency Managers with broad powers to fire elected officials, break contracts and dissolve towns is already forcing public workers to accept new concessions.

In Flint, which received state approval for an $8 million emergency bond needed to make payroll this month and is seen as a likely target for state intervention, the firefighters union has reportedly issued a list of new concessions including increased health insurance payments and giving up holiday pay and night-shift premiums.

“I would rather give concessions that I would like than have an [emergency financial manager] or something of that magnitude come in and say this is what you are going to do,” Flint Firefighters Union President Raul Garcia told the Wall Street Journal.

The law also gives officials in financially troubled towns the ability to cancel contracts, but Flint Mayor Dayne Walling has said that double digit concessions by union workers could prevent that from happening.

In Pontiac, which along with Benton Harbor, Ecorse and the Detroit Public School system already has an emergency financial manager in place, local police voted to dissolve their union last week.

Michigan Fraternal Order of Police spokesman John Buczek said that Pontiac’s emergency financial manager Michael Stampfler had reduced the city’s police force from over 100 to just 41 and was prepared to lay off more as the new law giving him power to break contracts gained final approval.

The former Pontiac police officers hope to be hired on by the Oakland County Sheriffs Dept., which will take over police service for the town.

Buczek questioned whether Stampfler’s plan for police service would provide adequate coverage for the city of 66,000 and he said that his group is in complete opposition to the new law that gives appointees total control over local governments.

“It would appear once they abolish collective bargaining agreements they can just get rid of police and firefighters as they like,” he said. “The people who still pay taxes in those communities have no say.”

With about 40 school districts in deficit across the state the Emergency Manager bill is “a mixed blessing,” said David Martell, executive of Michigan School Business Officials.

Though the law may allow schools to stay afloat by cutting labor costs, problems remain.

Schools are required by law to provide free and appropriate education, he said, “but we are not funding districts at a level that is consistent with how their costs are growing.”

The state teachers union, the Michigan Education Association, whose members now face possible cuts because of the new law, has asked its local units to vote by April 15 on whether the union should “initiate crisis activities up to and including job action.”

In a letter to union members MEA President Iris Salters wrote:

“The legislation being considered on a daily basis at the Capitol (emergency managers, step freezes, mandatory privatization, mandatory health insurance payments, budget cuts, etc.) are outright attacks on our students, our members, our communities and our future. And we must take action accordingly.”

Salters said that a vote for more intense union action would demonstrate that MEA is not willing to stand silent while Michigan’s public schools and middle class are under attack.

And although backers of the bill insist that use of the extraordinary powers in the bill would be rare, Benton Harbor emergency financial manager Joe Davis, who has clashed with city council members over cost cutting measures, would not rule out disbanding city council when asked last week.

As many as nine local governments and school districts may require state review under Michigan’s new Emergency Manager law, Treasurer Andy Dillon said as Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill into law on Wednesday.

Dillon declined to name the local units that may test out the new law.

Treasury Dept. spokesman Terry Stanton said that no financial reviews have been scheduled and that reviews become public when a review team is appointed.

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