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Posted on Sun, Aug 19, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Protect working families by protecting collective bargaining rights

By Guest Column

During the past few months, you may have been asked by fellow community members to sign a petition in support of a constitutional amendment to protect jobs and collective bargaining rights for all Michigan workers. More than twice the number of people necessary signed the petition in order to put this initiative on the ballot this November. Whether or not you signed the petition, you may have asked yourself why you should support this amendment.

In the current political climate, it is easy to forget that collective bargaining is, at its simplest, when two or more workers come together with their employer to negotiate hours, compensation, and working conditions. Workers democratically decide among themselves what to bargain for, and often address safety, quality standards, and due process in hiring and firing in their contracts. Many of the basic workplace rights and protections we take for granted today are the result of decades of collective bargaining efforts: the base 40-hour work week, the weekend, the minimum wage, and child labor laws.


Graduate Students demonstrating their support of unionization.

File Photo

Often, but not always, collective bargaining takes the form of unions. The Graduate Employees’ Organization and the Lecturers’ Employee Organization at the University of Michigan are two examples of successful volunteer-run unions. We have achieved a degree of job security and respect not usually enjoyed by teachers in similar positions at other universities. We represent two groups of workers who are usually considered cheap, expendable labor by colleges and universities, and who are often paid poverty-level wages with no benefits. By bargaining with the University, we have achieved living wages, child care, and better healthcare benefits.

But it’s not just about wages and benefits. We have used bargaining to guarantee class-size limits on a departmental basis, which means that we are able to give our students the individual attention they need. We also bargained for a guarantee of adequate safety training for instructors conducting classes in sciences labs. Over time, the fair wages and benefits we have fought for have also helped to recruit and retain talented and diverse teachers who provide the quality education for which the university is renowned.

Overall, workers who bargain collectively help establish a baseline of expectations for wages, benefits, and safety that ripples outward to affect all of our workplaces. Fair wages enable workers to support a strong local economy that strengthens communities. Historically, collective bargaining has particularly helped increase wages for women and people of color.

Whatever your opinion on the leadership or actions of a particular union or unions, it is important to remember that the current majority of politicians in Lansing, along with many corporate CEOs, are intent on wiping out any form of collective bargaining. In the past year alone, more than 80 bills curtailing workers’ rights and collective power have been introduced in the Michigan legislature. If they succeed, no group of workers, from the biggest to the smallest, from the wealthiest to the poorest, would be able to negotiate the conditions of their employment.

These politicians and CEOs want to take power out of the hands of workers and give it to the wealthy few, who have no problem outsourcing jobs or cutting wages and benefits. It is no coincidence that in the same four decades that collective bargaining has been eroded by anti-labor legislation, income inequality has soared, public education has been systematically de-funded, and austerity budgets now threaten the basic services that keep our communities safe and productive. That’s why this amendment is vital, not only to our economy, but to the quality of life of all Michiganders. Help protect collective bargaining and protect good jobs: vote yes when this initiative is on the ballot this November.

Bonnie Halloran & Kathryn Frank

Bonnie Halloran is the President of the Lecturers' Employee Organization, representing 1,400 Lecturers at the three University of Michigan campuses. She has been a Lecturer in the Anthropology Department at the University of Michigan-Dearborn for 15 years.

Kathryn Frank is the President of the Graduate Employees' Organization, representing 1,800 Graduate Student Instructors and Graduate Student Staff Assistants at the University of Michigan. She is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Communication Studies.



Sun, Sep 2, 2012 : 1:15 p.m.

apologies for poor editing. I meant to say there is no constraint on union demands in the public sector. Need more money raise taxes. The market constrains demands in the private sector on union demands. The lack of management and generous contracts lead to the bankrupcy uf General Motors. We are starting to see the same thing in the public sector.


Sun, Sep 2, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

FDR was opposed to public sector unions. It was not until John Kennedy was elected President that we had public sector unions. Since many politicians (i.e. democrats) will kowtow to public sector unions to keep their office there is on demands. This issue is an attempt by unions and democrats to ensure their revenue stream from union members and to support their political agenda.


Wed, Aug 22, 2012 : 7:48 p.m.

The idea that people in a union decide what is going to be bargained is not true most of the time. I negotiate on the other side and many times the people in the plant are shocked to hear what the International union guy has done at the negotiations. Why are Americans such wusses and unable to make a deal for themselves? Why be part of a union that protects the lazy people? Excel at what you do and you won't need a union.


Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.

CEO's bargain with their employer and sign a contract when hired but bring in union busting companies when employees try to do the same!

Valerie Przywara

Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 9:41 p.m.

It's no coincidence that with the underming of unions we've also seen an increase in income disparity Wwith lowering wages and loss of benefits. My husband is a retired UAW member - and we credit the power of the union with providing us an income that allowed us to buy a modest home, put our kids through public universities and purchase the cars he helped produce and get the health care we needed. I'd like to see every worker make a living wage. The less power unions have to organize - the less likely that will happen.


Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 8:56 p.m.

From the Detroit News and you wonder why people question unions. No Horses, But Detroit Water Department Employs 'Horseshoer' By JARRETT SKORUP Aug. 20, 2012 Despite having no horses, the water and sewerage department for the city of Detroit employs a horseshoer. Yet even with a department so bloated that it has a horseshoer and no horses, the local union president said it is "not possible" to eliminate positions. Union rules have turned the department into a government jobs program, some critics say. The horseshoer's job description is "to shoe horses and to do general blacksmith work… and to perform related work as required." The description was last updated in 1967. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) has a large debt, rising water prices and inefficient services — using almost twice the number of employees per gallon as other cities like Chicago.


Wed, Aug 22, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

Mr. Blutarsky, you simply assert that the account is untrue; could you provide some evidence in support of your claim? I did, as you suggested, google 'detroit horseshoer' and got a page of hits. Some of the articles are clearly derivative or are mere repetitions of Mr. Skorup's piece, but not all of them are. You might discount some them because they're products of institutions you disagree with, but that's not really an argument for or against the truth of the statement. All of the articles seem to agree on one central fact: that the independent report Mr. Skorup cites does indeed indicate the existence of the position. It may be that the duties may have shifted (to those of a general ironworker, for instance) without any reflection of the change in the wording of the job title or even the brief description that follows it. Nonetheless, you do readers a disservice when you seem to imply simply that the position does not exist and that the claim that it does are false.

Bill Wilson

Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 8:57 a.m.

Jon, Google: SEIU (Supreme Court decision), and then Google Wisconsin recall. Those of 2 excellent examples of horrific abuse by a labor union.

Jonathan Blutarsky

Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 2:52 a.m.

Google it - its not true


Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 7:32 p.m.

Too bad this outstanding guest op-ed was buried on's site - it never appeared on the home/main page. As a result, relatively few people read it. Guess that tells us how feels about collective bargaining, though that's no surprise to any regular reader of the site.

Yakim Smakim

Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 4:05 p.m.

I spent the past five years living in a right-to-exploit state and can attest personally that WTW states have little to do with personal freedom or choice, at least so far as employees are concerned. What I saw were a lot of minimum wage jobs and families struggling to get by. I count myself as a moderate who thinks there is plenty wrong with unions. But if asked whether people have the right to form a labor organization and bargain with their employer for better wages and health care, I'd say that sounds like an exercise of personal freedom. Why do conservatives support one kind of freedom and not the other?


Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 3:18 p.m.

Thank you for this excellent article! I am a proud member of GEO and teacher at the University of Michigan, and the union is very important to me because of the benefits and protections we've been able to achieve together. Don't be fooled by anti-union scare tactics. The bottom line is that being a union means that I have health insurance, sick leave, a wage I can live on, and a host of other benefits that allow me to focus on doing my job as a teacher, instead of worrying about how I could afford to feed my family, buy medicine I need, and so on. The only legitimate reason to be worried about unions is if you care more about profits than you do about all working families sharing these benefits.


Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 4:06 p.m.

The country is $16 trillion in debt, when should we start worrying about the financial aspects of our jobs and the effect unions have played in the accumulation of debt?


Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 1:41 p.m.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are 14.7 million American workers who belong to a union. That's out of about 123.5 million workers. To show you why unions are so desperate to hold on to what they have, the BLS reports that in 1983 there were 17.7 million workers who belonged to unions – three million more – out of a workforce of only about 88 million – 35 million less. Forced dues are serious money for the teachers unions. According to data compiled by the National Institute for Labor Relations Research in 2008, the two teachers unions – the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) – collected $2 billion in union dues in 2007 through their state affiliates. Out of that $2 billion, $1.3 billion came from states that allow forced dues.


Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 7:39 p.m.

And when unions were at their peak, the 1950s & 60s, the nation experienced great economic growth and the middle class expanded dramatically. Ever since the Reagan era union membership has declined and, as a result, the middle class has weakened.


Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 1:39 p.m.

America was about freedom of association. Right to Work Laws allow a person to be employed at a job that has union representation without joining a union. SInce when is freedom to choose not a good thing?

michael Limmer

Wed, Aug 22, 2012 : 12:51 a.m.

If Outdoor would support forcing the Right to Work workers to go head to head with their employer instead of simply living off what the union that they despise so much has gotten for them, then I would support a right to work law. See how long they stay anti-union when the boss announces lower pay, harsher conditions, no benefits, plumb jobs for his nephew.


Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 7:37 p.m.

Because that worker still gains from what the union has negotiated. 'Right to Work' - a wonderfully Orwellian term, since everyone already has a right to work - just means that some employees could mooch off of others. They'd gain the benefits of the union's work but not have to pay dues.

Joel A. Levitt

Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 12:47 p.m.

For two and a quarter centuries our nation has been moving from legal slavery toward freedom for all -- including the individual's freedom to join groups that have the right to negotiate contracts. Now, the Republican legislature wants to turn the clock back a hundred years. This would clearly be a violation of our tradition of equal protection before the law. The freedom of the individual is only the first concern. They would endanger the public welfare, as well. Striking, legal or not, is the only alternative to collective bargaining that labor has. So the GOP (the Greedy Oppressive Party) would set us all up for interrupted essential public services, e.g., police, fire, education and public sanitation.

Bill Wilson

Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 1:33 p.m.

Arborani, I'll bet they would too. Lincoln would probably be angered at the fact that people like Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and Dan Rostenkowski could commit the crimes they did and have their Dem buddies turn a blind eye.


Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 1:30 p.m.

Lincoln and his party would not recognize the GOP of today.

Bill Wilson

Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 1:22 p.m.

Joel, Really? Geez, I though Lincoln was a republican, and a republican majority, which was opposed by Al Gore's dad, passed the Civil Right's Act of 1964.


Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 1:18 p.m.

Joel, Do you realize that many of the workers you sited cannot strike by law? Also under federal labor law striking workers can be permenatly replaced? My guess while the actual unemployment rate is about 15% there will be few strikes.

mike gatti

Sun, Aug 19, 2012 : 2:51 p.m.

When will it stop? Folks rail against labor unions and there are some gripes that linger from when both unions and management were fat and sassy a generation ago. Fast forward to 2012 and now we've come to a point where people are so scared they won't even take a proper vacation. "Oh we're just going to a take a long weekend here or there" is code for scared to death not to guard my job. Mgt. knows it can dump more on fewer workers and get them to do it for less and folks just keep eating it up. Go ahead and rail but unionized workers tend to make more than non union counterparts and have better bennies and vacation and sick time as well. I could see how that would just stink. I can see why somebody would want to spend a lot of money to convince me that this is a bad idea. From comments looks like their money was well spent.


Wed, Aug 22, 2012 : 3:31 a.m.

3 trillion


Wed, Aug 22, 2012 : 3:30 a.m.

Mike.....2 trillion in unfunded going to write that check?

mike gatti

Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 8:33 p.m.

in a word yup. See Wisconsin.

average joe

Sun, Aug 19, 2012 : 3:28 p.m.

You are still able to form a union & collective bargain if you feel the need to, so is this really something that needs to be put into the state's constitution?


Sun, Aug 19, 2012 : 1:56 p.m.

Unions bring workers down to the lowest common denominator! Why would any human being want to inflict this on another? The Freedom to achieve, be all that you can be is what America is all about! Unions inflict pain on other working families by causing higher taxes and/or prices, Why should Union families be protect and get all of the benefits while other working families have to pay for it?


Wed, Aug 22, 2012 : 3:27 a.m.

the one percent (CEO's) are paying their own bills. The public unions have aproximately 3 TRILLION in unfunded pension obligations. Collective bargaining or political bullying? Negotiations or coercian? Labor slowdowns, sabatage, strikes, non public negotiations not subject to open meeting laws even though taxpayers pay the bill......did I mention public unions have taxpayers on the hook for 3 trillion dollars in unfunded benefits.....Romney is paying his own bills public unions are not.


Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 7:36 p.m.

xmo, lemme get this straight. Unions are completely ineffective, bring workers down, yet union employees make more?

Paul Jordan

Sun, Aug 19, 2012 : 8:32 p.m.

If "other working families" are not protected perhaps that is because those workers aren't in a union! It is true that union workers tend to earn more than non-unionized workers because, as someone once said, 'in union their is strength!" Maybe non-unionized should join a union. Unions ought not to be a few, but for every worker. It is totally untrue that "unions bring workers down to the lowest common denominator". Many skilled trades unions (and their craft guild predecessors) have served for hundreds of years to teach and control the quality of the skills exhibited by their members.

Jonathan Blutarsky

Sun, Aug 19, 2012 : 2:32 p.m.

"Unions inflict pain on other working families by causing higher taxes and/or prices" Really!?! So Romney pays 12% LESS tax as a percentage than I pay because of Unions? Baloney!


Sun, Aug 19, 2012 : 1:43 p.m.

"...We have used bargaining to guarantee class-size limits on a departmental basis..." Really? There was not a limit before?


Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 7:35 p.m.

It is very common for unions to negotiate conditions like that. They don't just impact workers but also 'customers,' in this case students.


Sun, Aug 19, 2012 : 12:17 p.m.

While it is true that unions played a large part in the development in the middle class, unions are now mostly a source of funds for 1 political party. Since If unions want to regain there status as protector of the middleclass, they should clean up their act and get out of the political giving game. I find it hard to believe that the majority of union members want their dues sent to only one political party.


Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 7:34 p.m.

Unions used to donate more money to Republican candidates. But the GOP has become very extreme, especially in the past decade, and many party members want to wipe out unions.


Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 1:13 p.m.

Bridget, You are incorrect saying dues are split and pac $ are seperate. Under state and federal laws an employee can "request" that their money not be used for political action. Most workers are either unaware or do not ask for their money back. Unions do not make their members aware that they do not have to support their one party causes.

Superior Twp voter

Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 4:58 a.m.

Well stated.


Mon, Aug 20, 2012 : 1:46 a.m.

Dues money is not sent to any political party. Members voluntarily donate to Political Action Committees. The 2 do not mix (are not fungible). Only PAC money goes to parties, generally to both parties, but right now, not much of it is going to Republicans because of their voting records. Republicans "vote with the leadership." They are not friends of nursing or education. They are not allowed to "reach across the aisle." See Jase Bolger.


Sun, Aug 19, 2012 : 10:53 p.m.

Paul, you apparently did not look at the info I supplied. It shows corp & union donations and where they went. Fair, balanced and factual.

Paul Jordan

Sun, Aug 19, 2012 : 8:27 p.m.

What Outdoor 6709 fails to mention is that corporations and multi-billionaires associated with them concentrate THEIR donations on the other party. Part of the reason for that is that the other party has made it part of their core mission to reduce the rights of working people and the power of their unions. Under these conditions, it would be bizarre if unions did otherwise.