The Republican assault on the middle class, public employees and unions continues in Lansing, and this time they are going after firefighters and police officers.
Rep. Joseph Haveman, R-Holland, introduced House Bills 4205 and 4206 on Tuesday that will repeal Public Act 312 of 1969 that allows binding arbitration of labor disputes for municipal police and fire departments. This act has long been a whipping boy of conservative Republicans, especially the ones at the local level, and they falsely blame it for what they say are high wages and decent benefits for firefighters and cops.
"At a time of fiscal crisis in our state with many communities close to receivership, we must find ways to free the hands of local elected officials from outdated and costly statutes and regulation such as this," Haveman said in a press release announcing his introduction of these anti-union bills. "Binding arbitration results in incremental increases to benefits and pay that are leading many of our municipalities toward bankruptcy.”None of that is true. The real reason for the troubles of local municipalities is simply falling property values and reduced revenue sharing from Lansing year after year.
Because police officers and firefighters are essential to public safety, they are not allowed to go out on strike like other bargaining units can, so this gives them a tool in negotiating a contract. PA 312 is the foundation of collective bargaining rights for firefighters and police officers in Michigan, and since 1969 PA 312 has provided a fair and equitable process for contract disputes between firefighters and police officers and municipalities. PA 312 is intended as a last resort in negotiations, not as a bargaining tool.
Arbitration is actually rare, so the claim that it is bankrupting municipalities is just bunk. In fact, the non-partisan Citizens Research Council says an average of only about 33 cases a year go to arbitration – about 8 percent of fire and police debarments, and of those cases, the municipalities are successful 71 percent of the time.
Tell me again how this is causing bankruptcy?
It’s not clear what the elimination of PA will mean. Will it mean that police officers and firefighters can go on strike, or is it just another attempt by Republicans to bust the unions?
The Legislature tried to amend PA 312 last session at the urging of the Michigan Municipal League (MML) that represents city and village officials that really wanted to want to kill it. They blame PA 312 for layoffs and bankruptcies instead of falling property values and reduced revenue sharing, and they cannot produce a single instance PA 312 caused a municipality to go into receivership.
The MML’s false claim is that arbitrators are not allowed to take a city's ability to pay into account and compare the city's other employees to police and fire officials when deciding if salary and other requests are fair, even though a city clerical worker does not face the same dangers as a police officer or firefighter or have the same level of education and training. The fact is an arbitrator can take ability to pay into account.
A good compromise was passed out of the Republican-controlled Senate last year and the same bill passed the Democratically-controlled House, but when some anti-labor Republicans realized it was not anti-labor union and Democrats liked the bill, the bill's originator refused to send the bill to the governor for signature and bottled it up in committee.
HBs 4205-4206 were referred to the Committee on Government Operations awaiting action.