Ypsilanti to consider terminating membership with Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce
An Ypsilanti City Council member is seeking to terminate the city’s membership in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce in an effort to condemn the policies held by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which openly supported the right-to-work legislation.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
Council Member Pete Murdock said he will bring forth a resolution Tuesday to ask the council to vote to withdraw its membership from the local chamber, which is a member of the of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
"The chamber of commerce has consistently taken positions contrary to the people we represent why should we remain members?" Murdock said.
Specifically, Murdock said he believes the Michigan Chamber of Commerce supported passage of right-to-work legislation, opposed increasing minimum wage, supported the elimination of personal property tax and opposed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Earlier this month, the Michigan Legislature approved bills that would make Michigan the 24th state with a right-to-work law that prohibits unions from collecting dues or fees from workers as a condition of employment.
“The Michigan Chamber supported passage of Freedom to Work legislation because it is good public policy that will have a significant impact on job creation and business growth,” said Rich Studley, President and CEO of the Michigan Chamber. “We are confident this new law will benefit both employees and employers across the state.”
Murdock said the Michigan Chamber of Commerce has spent millions of dollars lobbying for those legislative changes. Although the city's withdrawal from the local chamber would likely have little practical impact, Murdock said the action would send an important message.
"It's symbolic," Murdock said. "I think symbols are important though and will basically send a message to my constituents that we're not going to be a part of (an organization) that opposes our interests."
Democrats across Washtenaw County have openly criticized the passage of the legislation.
Mayor Paul Schreiber said he is in favor of the sentiment in regards to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, but against the action that would eliminate the city's membership with the A2Y chamber.
"They do a lot of things locally," Schreiber said. "They help businesses. They don't lobby in Lansing and they don't have a PAC. They're all about us and helping businesses be successful. They haven't always agreed with us, but they're certainly not part of the aggressive right wing agenda that the Michigan Chamber has."
In an email to council members, A2Y Chamber vice president of government relations Andy LaBarre said he understands the frustrations and that it is not the first time where the "poor choices" of the Michigan and U.S. chambers have reflected negatively upon the local chamber.
LaBarre also emphasized the chamber is a separate entity and is not chartered through either of them or bound in any way. LaBarre said it is not a member of the U.S. Chamber, but it is a member of the Michigan Chamber because it provides access to the Michigan Association of Chamber Professionals.
The A2Y Chamber does not contribute to the Michigan Chamber PAC and it does not have a PAC of its own, according to LaBarre, who said the A2Y chamber did not endorse the right-to-work legislation or oppose the Affordable Care Act.
"Several local labor unions are members of the A2Y Chamber, and they are valued as members and for all the economic benefits they bring to our community and our businesses," LaBarre wrote. "The A2Y chamber values our relationship with the city of Ypsilanti and its community members."
The A2Y chamber, according to its website, is a 1,300-member community organization that facilitates and advocates on behalf of its members through its services and programs. Schreiber said the chamber offers networking opportunities and events as well as leadership development.
Schreiber said he does not plan to support this resolution as it stands.
"I would support the resolution if it involved condemning the policies of the Michigan Chamber, but I won't vote to resolve our dues."
The city pays an annual membership fee of $328.50 to the local chamber. Schreiber said while pulling out would have a minimal monetary impact, the symbolic impact would be vast.
"It's all about partnerships and if we say we're pulling out, that's guilt by association," Schreiber said. "If someone is going to want to open a business and the city isn't a member, how friendly is the city to businesses? It doesn't mean that just because you're business-friendly means you agree with personal property taxes."
Murdock said he believes its "nonsense" to believe that by not being part of the organization, the city isn't business-friendly.
"We're not members of the NAACP, but does that mean we're not civil rights friendly? Murdock said. "It doesn't mean that. If you look at our position and the tax benefits we give businesses, it's a little hard to say that."
Amy Biolchini | AnnArbor.com
Murdock said individual businesses still would be able to be part of the chamber if they chose to, so they would not directly be impacted. Schreiber said the chamber would still offer its services to businesses in the Ypsilanti area.
"If the mayor wants to be a member, he can pay his dues and be a member," Murdock said. "I'm a member of several organizations the city isn't. What this does is sends a message that we don’t want to be part of an organization that consistently goes against Ypsilanti residents... If they want to paint it a different way, they can."
Council Member Brian Robb said while he would like to learn more about the resolution before he decides which way he will vote, to some degree, he believes Murdock is "absolutely right."
"The chamber exists to serve its members," Robb said. "My concern is what are our affiliations and how do we define who we join?"
Like Murdock, Robb pointed out the fact that the city is not part of several other business related organizations such as the Depot Town Merchants and the Downtown Association of Ypsilanti. Robb said the city is a member of many organizations, but almost all are comprised of municipal and other public sector entities.
Robb and Murdock said the chamber is the only organization the city is a member of that is not primarily made up of public sector entities.
This whole idea that the fact we wouldn't belong makes us anti-business, that logic is just absurd," Robb said.
LaBarre said its "vitally important to the chamber that it has a working relationship with the city." LaBarre said former city manager Ed Koryzno was a member of the chamber’s public policy committee.
"... Just this week that committee met with City Manager Ralph Lange and City Planner Teresa Gillotti, to get a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities Ypsilanti faces and to find areas where we can work together," LaBarre wrote. "The A2Y Chamber would view it as a major blow if the city of Ypsilanti were not a member. The dues are not the issue, it’s the message of losing the city of Ypsilanti that would be the greatest setback."