Unexpected Employee Protests Against Michigan’s Snyder

Republican governors in Midwest are gaining a reputation as union battlers – but Michigan’s new Governor Rick Snyder did not set out to be one. Despite his own state’s budget crisis, he’s tried to keep the debate over public employee benefits and compensation from boiling over.

But that hasn’t stopped thousands of angry union members and other protesters from showing up at his doorstep, just as A protestor holds up a sign. they’ve done in other states. Michigan Public Radio’s Rick Pluta brings us this report.

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Snyder’s message has been one of, “We’re all in this together,” and he has insisted it will take sacrifices on everyone’s part to fix the state’s budget, revamp government, and revive the economy.

“People do embrace the idea of change – until it actually comes, and then the first reaction is a negative one,” he said this week. “And anyone who is involved will find the line item or the issue they don’t like the answer to.”

Just three months into his term,  those unhappy with Snyder include seniors upset with his proposal to tax their pensions, teachers mad at education funding cuts, and public employees who do not like the new sweeping powers that have been given to emergency managers in some of the state’s worst-off communities. Their unions say his plans are a back door attack on them – one that they didn’t see coming.

Snyder says he can convince them to see his points. But, on many days, the governor can look out from his office across the street from the Michigan Capitol and see there are plenty of protesters who want him to change his mind.

“It’s not fair! It’s not fair!” the protesters shouted this week.

Union members say they don’t buy Snyder’s concept of shared sacrifice, since businesses will get tax cuts while seniors on pensions will pay taxes on that income, and government workers are being asked to pay more for their benefits.

“He’s nickeling and diming us,” said Ray Holman,  a state employee union lobbyist. “He’s not necessary calling for ending collective bargaining or making Michigan a right-too-work state, but, in essence, it’s having the same effect because he’s doing all these smaller things and it’s coming after us and taking away our rights just the same.”

He says Michigan’s new emergency manager law is a case in point. The law gives sweeping authority to state-appointed emergency managers who basically run local governments in financial trouble. That includes amending, or in the worst case scenario, throwing out union contracts all together.

State employee Ray Holman at the union protest.

David Gronenboom, an alternative education teacher, was shepherding a group of students through the state Capitol this week. Gronenboom says he’s voted for Republicans and Democrats, but he does not like what he sees coming out of Lansing. He says proposed budget cuts make it more likely that cities and school districts will run into budget troubles that will lead to insolvency.

“You remove money from cities, and then cities need help, and then puts the government in the position to make decisions directly about bargaining rights and contracts and wages and all those kinds of things. That’s how I see it going.”

But Snyder insists he is not going after collective bargaining rights – certainly not like his counterparts in Wisconsin and Ohio have. Wisconsin’s new public employee bargaining law requires unions to win re-certification votes every year, for example. Wisconsin and Ohio Republicans want to restrict what public employees can bargain for in contract talks.

“We’re going to do collective bargaining for the state for the concessions that we’re asking people to make,” Snyder said. “So I’ve been very pro-active in talking about collective bargaining being a part of our culture, our society, and doing it well in our state.”

Democratic leaders in the Legislature have asked Governor Snyder to prove it by endorsing their proposed amendment to the state constitution that would guarantee collective bargaining rights. Snyder’s refused. He says it’s not necessary and it puts the focus on labor strife instead of his top priorities of balancing the budget and creating jobs. But meanwhile, the protesters remain outside his door.

Changing Gears senior editor Micki Maynard discussed the new emergency manager law Thursday on Here and Now, broadcast on NPR stations. You can also listen to the interview here.

2 Replies to “Unexpected Employee Protests Against Michigan’s Snyder”

  1. WE MUST GET TEACHERS BACK IN A BOX…THIS CRAZY $96,000 for teaching 34 hours a week with 5 free periods day…You Union guys wake up your big auto wages are being eaten up by PROPERTY TAXES, EVERYTHINGS TAXED

  2. Hello justice to the tax payer,

    Quit focusing on how much money the teachers make and look at the tax cuts that the corporations will receive and that the kids will be shoved into classes that will be so large that they will not get the education that they need or deserve. I guess as long as the teachers don’t get any money that will make all the problems go away! I don’t think so. I am not sure where you live but in my town the teachers do’t make that and they work more that what you stated. What box would you like the teachers to get back into? If you have children i guess that you would want the teacher to stay in that box when your child needed to be educated, right? So why didn’t you become a educator since i suppose that you are not since you want those darn teachers to get back in the box and do as they are told!!! People should not throw stones out that they do not know anything about, such as being a educator working with the youth of our future is priceless.

    I notice that you don’t have a problem with the auto industry making big wages but not teachers. Who cares who makes what for what ever they do. Good for anyone that has a job and makes a decent living! The state needs to come together and focus on what the real issue is… if the people have to make sacrifices then the big corporations should not get big tax breaks. Leave the teachers alone!

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