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Posted on Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Washtenaw County takes stance against right-to-work legislation with unanswered legal questions

By Amy Biolchini

The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners gave its initial approval to a resolution Wednesday night aimed at deferring the effects of right-to-work legislation without answered questions on its legality.

In its Ways and Means meeting Wednesday, the commission voted 6-1 to approve the resolution that not only served as a formal expression of the majority of the commission's opposition to the right-to-work measures passed by the lame duck Michigan legislature in December, but also to direct staff to expedite union contract negotiations.

Commissioner Dan Smith, R-Northfield Township, was the sole Republican voice on the board Wednesday night and the dissenting vote. Commissioners Kent Martinez-Kratz, D-Chelsea; Felicia Brabec, D-Pittsfield; Conan Smith, D-Ann Arbor; Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor; Andy LaBarre, D-Ann Arbor; and Rolland Sizemore Jr., D-Ypsilanti Township voted for the measure.

Commissioners Alicia Ping, R-Saline, and Ronnie Peterson, D-Ypsilanti, were absent.

Right-to-work legislation removes the security clause in union contracts that require all employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment. The law takes effect in Michigan March 27.


Andy LaBarre

The resolution, drafted and presented by LaBarre, still requires a final vote in the full meeting of the Board of Commissioners, which next meets in two weeks. If passed there, the county administrator would begin negotiating union contracts that would be up at the end of this year in order to potentially extend them for four years -- thereby circumventing the immediate effects of the state law.

The right-to-work law would begin impacting employees in union shops after their current contracts expire.

Additionally, the resolution seeks to extend a letter of understanding between the unions and the county government for a period of 10 years that would preserve the security clause.

Dan Smith raised a number of questions about the effects of the resolution to the board's corporation counsel, Curtis Hedger, including if the 10-year letter of understanding that the county would seek to negotiate with its unions would be legal.

Hedger declined to comment on the legality, citing numerous areas that needed to be scrutinized before he could give a fair statement.

Dan Smith countered and asked Hedger to give a ballpark figure regarding the potential cost if the county is sued after passing the resolution.

"I would not hazard a guess," Hedger said, declining to give a figure because of the varying costs associated with different kinds of lawsuits.

The letter of understanding has a clause that states the union would pay for any lawsuits against it, said Diane Heidt, the county's labor relations director.

"The union would indemnify the employer for any challenges that were made regarding the right to work agency shop matter," Heidt said.

Dan Smith maintained that it wasn't the county's business to interfere with legislation that has been passed at the state level.

LaBarre, who wrote the resolution and dedicated a previous working session of the board to discussing potential impacts of right-to-work legislation, said the opposite.

"I fully agree; let's stick to the county's business. I would submit to you here: This is the county's business in terms of impacts to county employees," LaBarre said.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Tue, Feb 12, 2013 : 9:40 p.m.

Oh lookin here. LaBarre taking union money for his campaign. Andy LaBarre bought and paid for by the union label!


Tue, Feb 12, 2013 : 9:33 p.m.

So LaBarre thinks he know what is best the County employee eh? LaBarre only knows what is good for the union bosses trying to protect their fiefdoms. This is a direct assault on the worker and the democratic process. The state has spoken. If you don't like it head to the ballot box in 2014.

Roger Kuhlman

Mon, Feb 11, 2013 : 10:37 p.m.

Yeah deny people the right to choose whether they want to pay union dues or not. The Left believes in forcing average People to do what left-wing elites want.

Jay Thomas

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 9:31 a.m.

Liberal democrats believe that they can obstruct legislation at every lower level of government. I wonder how they would like it if the more conservative jurisdictions in our country just decided to opt out of all the laws they didn't care for.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 5:45 p.m.

Great way to spend our tax amazesme that people who identify as progressives want to keep the status quo. How "progressive" is that?


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 3:32 p.m.

"This is the county's business in terms of impacts to county employees," LaBarre said. Can Mr. LaBarre please explain how it impacts the employees? Since Mr. Labarre doesn't respond to emails, Amy can you do a follow up with Mr. LaBarre and ask him what "impacts" he is talking about?


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:54 p.m.

Can we expect a national outcry over federal contractors and the amount they make? After all, why should personal gain trump collective good?


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 5:47 p.m.

Clown - we are not and do not want to be a collective. They have those in China if you want to join one....................


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:48 p.m.

If you agree with DexterGardener than you better show up at the next Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting and tell them how you feel because Dan Smith cna not do it all alone!


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:47 p.m.

This is about the right to choose...NOT the right to work!!! We ALL have the right to work. I resent the idea that I MUST pay for something or some ideas that I DO NOT agree with. This is AMERICA...THE HOME OF THE FREE.

Unusual Suspect

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 5:49 p.m.

No you don't, because Gitmo is closed. I know that because five years ago Obama promised he would close it. Oh, wait....


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 3:23 p.m.

Clownfish, What part of the MI constitution says I need to pay a fee to the union if I am not a member of and did not ask for representation?


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 3:16 p.m.

Doesn't Obama have that fixed yet? I thought that a 2008 campaign promise. ..oh yes, there it is:


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:52 p.m.

What part of the MI constitution guarantees me a job? I resent paying for GITMO, do I get a special exemption on my federal taxes?

Dog Guy

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:43 p.m.

Six politicians dutifully earn their other pay.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:31 p.m.

One of the common features of a union security agreement is that the employer agrees to fire the worker at the request of the union if the union dues aren't paid. Some clauses just agree for the employer to withhold the employee's pay. I don't see why it would be in the interest for the county to enter into such an agreement and fire or punish a good worker just because he or she doesn't want to pay the union. Let the union do its own collection and dirty work.


Sat, Feb 23, 2013 : 2:02 a.m.

Can you provide reference for this common feature of a union security agreement? I am soooo not any legal expert, but what you're describing sounds like a 'closed shop', which are illegal under the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947 (Taft Hartley). I'd be surprised that in our Republican leaning state (Legislature, State Supreme Court, A.G., and Governor's Office) that such a precedent hasn't been legally challenged.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:23 p.m.

It is so nice to see alleged conservatives fighting against people that put personal gain ahead of the collective good. I wonder if there are any other instances that in which they would favor collectivism over personal gain?


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:02 p.m.

If you look up Andy LaBarre in LinkedIn


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:02 p.m.

Doesn't the commission have a fiduciary responsibility to the voters? Do they feel that this is best for the taxpayers of the county? Or just a stamp your foot, I hate Snyder move? Reminds me of the clowns in Detroit that would rather go bankrupt than accept help from Lansing.

Great Lakes Lady

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:25 p.m.

No. Their fiduciary responsibility is to the big donors who get them elected, i.e. unions......not to us....voters and citizens of the county they are supposed to serve. "Pay to Play"


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 1:52 p.m.

This is just great. Let's rush to get a new union contract before the RTW deadline. That way we can pay our "Union Masters" even more than they already get. This is exactly why RTW was passed. Unions are running our government and their only concern is to stuff money into their own pockets.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 1 p.m.

Thank you, Dan Smith. Keep up the good fight.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 12:55 p.m.

Sh1 You have it wrong! You are totally wrong with your understanding of freeloading and of how union contracts work, because not "all union members are treated as equals". As I stated yesterday my husband paid dues but did not get the same benefits of equal work hours as his Teamers borthers did so why should he pay the same rate in union dues? Right to work for some will balance the playing field that is why it is need.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 12:48 p.m.

I guess Andy forgot to mention in his list of priorities besides keeping parks green, human services and economic strategies that his support for unions will be his top priority. Go figure.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 12:34 p.m.

Comments here show people continue to misunderstand the RTW law. Can anyone explain why you think a person should be able to benefit from union membership without paying into it? That sounds like freeloading to me, a characteristic Republicans usually abhor.

Unusual Suspect

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 5:46 p.m.

Next time the contract comes up, the union will be able to decline to negotiate for non-members, which is good for everybody, because non-members aren't asking the union to negotiate for them. They want to be left alone. The persistence of the freeloader lie is disgusting.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 3:36 p.m.

Because if the unions don't force everyone to join, they need to negotiate for the non-members too or else the non-members will offer their services for cheaper and the union members will be out of a job. The only way the unions "work" is if they have a monopoly on the labor.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 3:18 p.m.

Clownfish, Please explain how these people would be "takers" if they are not union members and are not requesting unions to represent them?


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 3:16 p.m.

sh1, I don't think you understand the RTW law and the union contract. Even though RTW will be on the law books effective March, it will not affect unions until their existing contract ends. And at that point they negotiate their benefits, etc. At that time, the unions can choose to have "exclusive representation" (they represent all employees, union and non union) or they can have "members only representation (represent only union members). If the unions choose members only representation then there is no such thing as a free loader. One would have to ask then why would the union want to have exclusive representation?


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:26 p.m.

Maybe it has something to do with there being no RIGHT to work? Remember, if ANY other criteria for employment is not acceptable to employees they should go elsewhere and certainly not ask the government for regulations. But, if they get union benefits and pay, they should expect the government to step in and make laws that ensure those people don't have to pay for those benefits. What could be a more clear political belief system? People that get without giving are "takers", people that don;t pay union dues but get benefits are....victims?


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 1:47 p.m.

What about the unions freeloading from the members they force to join and donating their dues to support the DNC?


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 1:10 p.m.

Freeloading is the new Republican/Tea Party value I know, they were against Takers before they were for it!


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 12:51 p.m.

You are totally wrong with your understanding of how union contracts work, because not "all union members are treated as equally" that why. As I stated yesterday my husband paid dues but did not get the same benefits as his Teamers borthers did so why should he pay the same rate in union dues. Right-to-work will balance out the playing field that is why it is need.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 12:20 p.m.

Yes it passed I was there just Iike I said I would be. I sure wish more people would of shown up to protest. Oh, well more of my hard earned money going to lawyers to fight this resolution.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 12:11 p.m.

The county has no business taking up the political mantel of public unions. The county is supposed to negotiate terms of collective bargaining agreements with unions at arms length not side-by-side. If Mr. LeBarre wishes to represent the union get a union job and join it. We've got Rebekah Warren joining the ACLU in a suit against the law--ok, laws should stand constitutional scrutiny. But, extending this "letter of understanding" for 10 years in order to undermine legislation is conniving cronyism intended to subvert arms-length negotiations and preserve the mutual back-scratching that politicians with eyes on higher offices seek so dearly. Mr. LeBarre is a young man. His plans undoubtedly are for a long career in "public service" and he's catering to labor to earn its support. This is why public unions are specious. The "employer" colludes with the employee and the public who pays for everyone is shut out of the process. I hope the full board acts to vote this down, but I'm not confident. I hope the electorate recalls this action when the next election rolls around.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 12:07 p.m.

Boy, guess spending other peoples money to fight the unions battle, which they caused by trying to force prop 2 through, is no problem. If the unions had not badly overreached and tried to write into the constituion that they had privledges no other groups or individuals have, they would not have been in these circumstances.

average joe

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 12:04 p.m.

"This is the county's business in terms of impacts to county employees," LaBarre said. No, not really. If the board does nothing in regards to RTW, it will not impact county employees. They will still have the same wage/benefit package as before. It will, perhaps impact the number of those that belong to the union, which isn't the responsibility of any of those on the board, at least not until re-election time.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 11:49 a.m.

Oh, goodie - while I don't approve of the right to work laws. I also don't approve of the County Commission setting up to spend money to defend a lawsuit. How much in the way of tax payer money will they end up spending in court? Thousands? Tens of Thousands? Hundreds of Thousands? Millions? I hope the commissioners all have deep pockets, because I suspect they will end up included in the lawsuits. I can already see test cases coming from this little action. This will mean less money for the Shelters and other activities the commission is supposed to be spending the money on. One has to wonder who the commission is actually serving?

Basic Bob

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 3:18 p.m.

The net result will be fewer jobs for sheriff deputies, dispatchers, and public health workers. But those left will all be forced to pay tribute to the union bosses and their political campaigns.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 3:09 p.m.

The commission is actually serving the unions. They went to the union's attorney first to ask them about opening up the contracts.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 11:46 a.m.

I give them an A+ for effort. It just feels like they're grabbing at straws.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 11:28 a.m.

The right to work law has been passed. These days in a world where folds are being told more and more what they can do and can't do, I believe that all have a right to decide if they wish to be in a union or not. And, with the unions getting more and more involved in politics, that choice for individuals is more important. Maybe as an individual I don't agree with whoever this union leaders are backing. To the commissioners, let's more on to something other than what has been passed -- or how many of you are being backed politically by the unions. hmmmmmm.


Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 5:55 p.m.

Nicholas Urfe, You are correct, no one is "forced" to join a union. But if the uniond decides to have "exclusive representation" at a company I am working at, I am then required to pay a fee to the union even though I am not a member, nor did I ask for the union to represent me. How is that fair?

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 8:08 p.m.

Nobody is forced to join a union.

Unusual Suspect

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 5:42 p.m.

Nicholas, the guy expressed an opinion. Are you now the arbiter of opinion?

Basic Bob

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 3:15 p.m.

@n.urfe, I don't see how a personal belief can be "factually" incorrect.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 3:07 p.m.

Nicholas Urfe, Shouldn't a worker have a choice whether to join a union or not? Why is it if my company gets organized by the union, and the union elects "exclusive representation" (meaning they represent all employees, regardless if they are a member or not) and I choose not to be in the union I am still required to pay a fee to the union? After all, the union chose to represent me, I didn't choose them to represent me.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:25 p.m.

" I believe that all have a right to decide if they wish to be in a union or not" Keep spouting those factually incorrect talking points. It doesn't matter that it's true, just that you keep repeating it.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:12 p.m.

Most of what unions do is politics as opposed to ensuring good working conditions. My wife belongs to a nurses union that is totally useless. All it does is collect lots of money every month that goes directly to the democratic party except for a small portion used for generous benefits for thew local union leaders. The elections the union has are a complete joke, very "UN-democratic".

Unusual Suspect

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 11:28 a.m.

"Commissioner Dan Smith, R-Northfield Township, was the sole Republican voice on the board Wednesday night and the dissenting vote." Thank you, Dan, for being the sole adult. It's too bad the children out numbered you.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 11:12 a.m.

This is a waste of time and resources, as it will merely result in counter suits...perhaps a review of other states where illegal moves like this were tried might prevent this type of thing...