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