Union contract talks begin after Washtenaw County formally condemns right to work
With no discussion Wednesday night, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution instructing administrators to promptly begin union contract negotiations ahead of schedule in an effort to avoid the immediate effects of a new right-to-work law in Michigan.
In a 6-2 vote, the board approved the resolution that also formally condemned the law that was passed in December by the lame-duck Michigan Legislature.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com file photo
Commissioners Andy LaBarre, D-Ann Arbor; Conan Smith, D-Ann Arbor; Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor; Ronnie Peterson, D-Ypsilanti; Rolland Sizemore Jr., D-Ypsilanti Township; and Kent Martinez-Kratz, D-Chelsea voted for the measure, while commissioners Dan Smith, R-Northfield Township and Alicia Ping, R-Saline, voted against it.
Commissioner Felicia Brabec, D-Pittsfield Township, was absent because she was on vacation.
Thirteen of the union contracts the county has with its employees will expire in December. In order to delay the effects of right-to-work legislation, county staff will expedite talks with unions in order to get new contracts approved by March 27 when the new law takes effect.
In order to do so, Administrator McDaniel said her office will have to begin immediately in order to get new contracts before the Board of Commissioners by March 20 for approval.
The commissioners entered into a hour-long closed-door session at the end of their Wednesday meeting to discuss union negotiation strategies. McDaniel said she would present the commissioners with several different approaches.
The county is also preparing to undergo budget negotiations, as it works to eliminate a $3.9 million structural budget deficit for 2014.
It's smaller than the previous budget deficit the county faced, but even harder to deal with, McDaniel said. "We've already done the cutting down to the bone in our budget," she said.
Working with the unions that represent about 85 percent of county employees would have been a part of the budget process anyway later in the year, McDaniel said, but the new direction from the commissioners means both will happen at the same time.
The right-to-work law removes the security clause in union contracts that requires employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment. It will take effect when union contracts expire — and so the county will now be working diligently to extend those contracts as long as possible.
McDaniel and her staff will be seeking four-year contracts with the unions that have expressed interest in the process, she said. The county will also be seeking letters of intent with the unions that will last for about 10 years.
In the last meeting of the board, Commissioner Dan Smith was the sole opposing voice to the resolution regarding the union contracts, which was introduced by Commissioner LaBarre. It's the first resolution LaBarre has presented and passed in his first term on the board.
Dan Smith had asked the board's corporation counsel Curtis Hedger a number of questions regarding the possible legality of the county taking such an action to extend its union contracts, but the questions were not answered at the meeting. McDaniel said Wednesday there had been no further direction by commissioners for Hedger to answer those questions.
The commissioners will next talk through the possibility of developing a four-year budget at 6 p.m. Thursday at its working session. a move McDaniel has said developing a four-year budget could eliminate the possibility of a large structural deficit in the future. The county is on a two-year budget cycle.