Someday, hopefully soon, things will settle down and government officials will focus on issues besides our current pandemic. We need to prepare for that day with foresight and planning. I hope today’s blog entry will give insight as to why I support unions and explain why I believe ending lame duck legislation is an important issue which must be addressed during the next legislative session.
When I was hired 17 years ago by Mount Morris Consolidated Schools to teach at their alternative high school, it was basically serving students who had left the other Flint area school systems. Although I would not be provided with health insurance by the District, it was not a concern for me as it was for some of the other teachers, since I was already covered under my wife’s health policy, who was a Head Start teacher. There were only three hourly pay steps, at which I was already starting at the highest step, because of my previous ten years of teaching experience. However, I remember thinking at the time, “Well, I can change that.”
Following an especially confrontational school board meeting, the District began to meet with our “association,” and we gradually made some progress in our working conditions and benefits. But eventually contract negotiations without union support became increasingly contentious and unproductive. Our small group of alternative education programs totaled only around 15 teachers, and among them were several, staunch, anti-union, conservative instructors who would never want to support a union. But after years of persistence, when the vote for union certification finally occurred, it was nine voting in favor of certification, with no one voting against. I learned that while some Republican conservatives didn’t want to support a union, they certainly couldn’t bring themselves to vote against enjoying union-negotiated protection and benefits.
In December 2012, during a lame duck session, (which is simply the time period between when an election is held and the newly elected officials are sworn in), Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law the frighteningly misnomered “right to work” legislation which allows individuals to opt out of paying union dues.
The District closed the alternative high school and I was transferred to be the GED teacher at the Genesee County Jail in Flint. It took two years to finally negotiate an initial union contract with the district. My bargaining unit had dwindled to only nine members, and at one point we only had three members in good standing. A major concern for everyone in my bargaining unit, including non-dues paying members, was who would negotiate our next contract if the union membership dwindled too low?
Through it all, the Michigan Education Association, our state’s largest teacher union, treated our local with the same dignity, respect and support, as if we were a much larger local with hundreds of members. For that I am forever grateful.
Because of gerrymandering, which Michigan ended recently with the passage of Proposal 2, for the last ten years Republicans have been in charge of our state’s House of Representatives, and they have controlled the Michigan State Senate since the early 1980’s.
During the last lame duck session in 2018, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed 340 bills and vetoed 55 that were approved between the November election and the Christmas holiday. This is an extraordinary amount of legislation for such a brief period of time; a legislative process which some would label as “totally dysfunctional.”
Controversial bills are frequently introduced during a lame duck session, since politicians know that they will not be held accountable. For example, in 2018, some of the lame duck bills were simply aimed at putting handicaps on newly elected Democratic officials or weakening ballot proposals which were approved that November. This disregard for the will of the people must stop now.
I have met with Jason Sheppard, who currently chairs the House Government Operations Committee, which is where Rep. Gary Howell’s amendment to end lame duck legislation continues to languish. Mr. Sheppard asserted that the Republican leadership will never allow lame duck legislation to end for as long as they are in control.
Now is not the time for partisanship to hamper our governor’s efforts to aid our state’s citizens in this hour of need. Gov. Whitmer needs a legislature which will work with her in these perilous times. And when we finally begin the process of recovery from the scourge we are currently enduring, we must be sure that our government officials will always be held accountable for their actions.
We must continue the fight to end lame duck legislation. Can we really afford to have lame duck legislative sessions in our state any longer?
Be healthy, be safe.