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Posted on Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 5:57 a.m.

More unions ask to negotiate contracts with Washtenaw County as right-to-work deadline looms

By Amy Biolchini

As Washtenaw County administrative staff works on an expedited schedule to negotiate seven union contracts, more unions are asking the county to extend the deadline of their contracts before the right-to-work law takes effect March 28.

It’s a tight schedule, as all union contracts must be approved by the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners at its meeting March 20.


Chris Asadian | file photo

The intent, for the unions, is to extend their contracts far into the future to avoid the immediate impacts of Michigan’s new, so-called right-to-work law that will take effect March 28.

The law will remove a clause requiring employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment — effectively opening shop to workers who do not want to join a union.

The union negotiations affect the county’s budget process, said County Administrator Verna McDaniel.

McDaniel said the county is willing to negotiate contracts up to 10 years in length to accommodate the requests of the unions — but the county has to get certain benefits out of the agreement.

“We are wiling to do up to 10 years for county units. We would need certain agreements in order to that to happen,” McDaniel said. “We would need some substantial economic benefit to do a 10-year contract.”

Those agreements could include concessions from the unions. McDaniel said the county would like reduce its employee legacy costs, including pension and health care.

“I would say the tenor of the negotiations is positive,” McDaniel said, noting that she’s cautiously optimistic about the outcome. “Our Board of Commissioners are optimistic and they see this as a way to support our employees.”

Five units of AFSCME Local 2733 and two units of AFSCME Local 3052 were the first to ask the county for expedited contract negotiations. All seven of those contracts were set to expire at the end of 2013.

The contracts cover the majority of Washtenaw County administrative employees; most employees of the family division of Juvenile Center and of the Juvenile Detention facility; and all employees in supervisory roles with the exception of department heads.

Just this week, McDaniel said eight other unions representing county employees have approached human resources and labor relations director Diane Heidt to open their contracts for negotiations as well.

The contracts could be challenged in court, said Derk Wilcox, a lawyer at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

“I would certainly say it’s risky,” Wilcox said. “These processes typically take months … Any new contract needs new consideration. … If they don’t get something in exchange then the contract’s not legitimate.”

Three-year contracts have historically been the norm, Wilcox said, and are legally problematic when they go longer than that.

According to the National Labor Relations Act, a union cannot guarantee employees that it will be their representative after three years, Wilcox said.

Employers may want to keep indemnity clauses requiring the union to cover legal costs if the contracts are challenged in court, he said.

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


Roger Kuhlman

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 9:26 p.m.

Union activists and leaders are not willing to let the people they claim to represent to decide for themselves whether they want to support a union or not. That is not the exercise of freedom or democracy. Shame on the Union elites who are the only ones benefiting from this situation.


Tue, Mar 19, 2013 : 4:36 p.m.

Sparty, How come ONLY the members get to vote, if the union collects money from both members and non members? Again, the non members don't have a say, but yet they are forced to pay a fee to the union. Yep, the union is looking out for the interest of all employees, or is it looking out for themselves? I am all confused now because they say one thing, but their actions do another.


Tue, Mar 19, 2013 : 7:09 a.m.

Wrong, the MEMBERS still have to vote on the new contract proposal if one is negotiated as a proposal ! If they don't want to extend and be locked in to paying dues, they can vote no.

Joe Hood

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 7:40 p.m.

How can you possibly negotiate wages ten years in advance? If you have no money coming in in five years, do you cease services but keep paying the salaries? I'm not judging the job those employees do for the county but the county administrators have a fiduciary responsibility to running the county, not into the dirt.

Jay Thomas

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 6:49 p.m.

When a union asks to negotiate for these reasons it is coming into the negotiations from a position of weakness. They may in fact end up with a worse deal than would otherwise be the case. Unfortunately for their members the only thing the union bosses really care about is making sure nobody gets out of paying dues.

Jay Thomas

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 6:55 p.m.

Just wanted to add: I'm not sure why this isn't obvious to everyone (especially the union members themselves). You don't make the best deal by rushing things.

Patrick Maurer

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 5:15 p.m.

This should be a clear sign that the county government is in collusion with the unions to circumvent the laws. Shame on them.

average joe

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 5:12 p.m.

The county has the upper hand here. I would hope they use this advantage in the best interest of the taxpayers.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 4:49 p.m.

Pretty amazing how worried the Union bosses are. It seems that if the workers feel they are getting their money's worth by joining the union, the unions would have nothing to worry about. Perhaps the Union bosses know that that is quite often not the case.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 3:34 p.m.

Over the years the union has cried out saying workers need choices in the workplace. Unions have said that no longer should it be the select few in management dictating the terms in a workplace. Now that the workers have a choice, the unions are against their workers having that choice. How ironic. The unions have a choice now too. When their contract expires , they can choose to keep an exclusive bargaining agreement (they represent all employees regardless if the employee is a union member or not) or they can represent union members only. The workers finally have a choice. Those that never wanted to be part of the union and never asked for the union to represent them can choose to keep paying the forced fee or keep their hard earned dollars for themselves. It's amazing how the union is now against workers having a choice. The union is no longer concerned about the worker, but more concerned about the almighty dollar and the flow of it.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 2:54 p.m.

What a joke the Administration staff has become, all of the sudden they have an urgency to get contracts renegotiated because they take orders from the union zealots, why all the sudden a change of heart when before the right to work was in place the they stoned walled unions about any union contracts. Lets be honest and just say the only reason this is taken place is because they all know that union membership will be non existent when they decide to no longer collect or voluntary pay dues for a non entity organization, the only change in the contracts will be an amendment to continue to make it mandatory employees will have to pay.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 3:36 p.m.

I understand that the unions may be doing this now in order to shore up membership, but doesn't the county have an interest in getting some concessions that may be on the table now that were not before? They have a very powerful hand to play in the next 2 weeks...


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 2:38 p.m.

@ Jack Gladney, re: "Per the editors and moderators of, this journalistic enterprise is very concerned with uniformity in its use of standardized terms as the Ann Arbor stories are re-posted by M-Live across the state and even by the AP." A better standard to work by would be to not blindly and unquestioningly accept highly-charged but inaccurate terminology created by politicians, and to apply critical thinking skills at all times. As for "standardized terms," the rest of the nation is very confused by's blind acceptance of the phrase, "Home Invasion," for instance. uses it to describe what is known nation-wide as Burglary, Breaking and Entering (or B&E). And then the rest of the country conjures up images of guns, drugs, and duct-taped hostages when they read's stories. Yes, technically, the law is titled that, so named by some "Tough On Crime" politicians back in the 90s. But are accuracy, and truth-in-journalism, well-served by this blind acceptance? No, they are not. "So-called Home invasion," and "so-called right-to-work" are far more accurate phrases, and would do well to avoid the trap of allowing itself to be spoon-fed politically-charged language.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 2:26 p.m.

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, do you represent the best interests of taxpayers, or are you the unions' stooges?

Jay Thomas

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 6:52 p.m.

They represent the democratic party (which is largely supported by unions). Taxpayers are always second fiddle.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 3:32 p.m.

I think this is a good question, because this is an opportunity for the county board to extract some really painful concessions in return for the contract concessions. The proof, I guess, is in the pudding...


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 2:22 p.m.

We need to remember this well for the next election. The WCBC is not interested in what is best for the voters, only what is best for their union masters. The entire boards that supports this need to be removed from office permanently. The real purpose is to continue collecting union dues that can then be funneled back to their democratic party slaves on the WCBC.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 2:07 p.m.

I guess I don't understand what the negotiations are about. If the law states that after March 28 it's illegal for union dues to be required for employment, what is being decided? If a union tries to negotiate union dues as necessary for employment, doesn't it become illegal no matter what after March 28? If a new contract extends requirement of union dues, it seems to me that the contract would become null and void. Otherwise, all union contracts would continue through the deadline and the law would have no effect until all contracts have expired - years from now.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 3:04 p.m.

Outfield Dan, The way I understand it to be is the law takes effect when the union's existing contract expires. So the unions thinking is if they negotiate contracts now before the law takes effect (March 28) and before their contract expires then they can keep taking money from those that don't want to be a part of the union and never asked to be represented by the union.

Amy Biolchini

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 1:34 p.m.

Right-to-work is the nomenclature that's been adopted for general use. I used the phrase "so-called" because the actual name of the law does not include that phrase. The purpose of the story was to update the contract negotiations, as the county must have all agreements before the Board of Commissioners Wednesday for approval. There were about eight unions asking county administration to re-negotiate their contract a week ago on top of the seven that had originally expressed interest in doing so.


Tue, Mar 19, 2013 : 11:55 a.m.

Sparty - I did ask.


Tue, Mar 19, 2013 : 7:01 a.m.

One could ask about the usage of the phrasing in question BEFORE making assumptions and dragging political views into your perspective, right ?


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 10:27 p.m.

Mrs. Biolchini - thank you, I appreciate your clarification with respect to semantics and your position. My interpretation of "so-called" in front of a noun or a modifier, it implies a doubt or an uncertainty about the legitimacy or validity of that modifier/noun.

Tom Todd

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 1:19 p.m.

let's pay peanuts and get services comparable to Detroit.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 5:41 p.m.

Detroit hardly pays peanuts for its workers. Heck, look at the Water Sewage Facility in Detroit. Over 1,900 union workers are making a decent living working there. And then comes in a consultant who says they could do with about 600 workers and reinvest the money into technology and equipment. What did Detroit do? Cried foul. How dare they tell Detroit how to invest their money wisely. Sounds like Ann Arbor wants to go they way of Detroit. Instead of looking for ways to invest our money wisely, into equipment and technology, they would rather keep paying the unions whatever they ask for.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 4:28 p.m.

Or keep paying out money we don't have like Detriot and see how that ends up.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 1:17 p.m.

The very nature of rushing negotiations, which is their primary purpose, in favor of ensuring the union mother ship keeps getting their money shows clearly that the union administration is far more important than the rank and file.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 1:58 p.m.

Rushing negotiations? kind of like how right to"freedom" to work (as Snyder is now parroting this garbage) was rushed through with no debate?

average joe

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 1 p.m.

When the dust settles, it would be interesting to know how the County came out on all of this- How much extra time was spent opening up & negotiating these contracts before the deadline and what the costs were, what other tasks were sacrificed because the staff spent most or all of their time on this instead, costs of potential legal challenges, etc., against what the county saved (that "substantial economic benefit") by negotiating ten year contracts.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 12:10 p.m.

Clearly there are way to many different unions representing county employees. Part of the reason some are against unions, each has their own costly administration. This whole "beat the deadline" concept flies in the face of the county representing taxpayers.

Usual Suspect

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 12:45 p.m.

It's also clear the county Board and staff also represent the unions instead of the citizens.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 11:56 a.m.

Why are the Unions so worried? If they are so important and all so powerful, what do they have to fear from their rank and file?


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 11:23 p.m.

BHarding, The unions only have to represent everyone IF they have it written in their contract that they have an exclusive representation. Then they are required to "represent" all those people in that group, regardless if they are a member or not of the union. Those that are not members of the union, but still part of that bargaining group are forced to pay a fee. They never requested or wanted union representation, but it was forced upon them. So now when the union contracts are up for negotiations, it is up to the union to decide if they want to have an exclusive representation in the contract or if they want to be members only representation. Simple as that.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 10:38 p.m.

Jeez@mallen, Have you never seen or met abusive employers? Are all employers reasonable people who would never violate the Fair Labor Standards Act? The truth is many workers need union representatives to help workers who have been unfairly treated or fired. An individual worker usually can't afford to hire an attorney if he/she was wrongfully discharged, that's where the union steps in. If a significant number of union workers decide "Hey, I don't have to pay my union dues anymore, yippee" the money for legal counsel disappears. But the union is legally bound to defend all employees, whether or not they pay their dues. That seems unfair, but that's the way it is. So, yes, I think the unions are anxious that workers may bail on them, since they'll be represented anyway. But eventually the union will collapse, which is the plan behind the right-to-Work law. No more seniority, no more shift choices and a greater divide economically.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 2:57 p.m.

Because they realize that now their members and those who do not want to be a part of the union, but are forced to pay a fee anyway now have a choice. And because now they have a choice, the unions are afraid of what workers really think of them. And these workers will be making their choice known through their pocket book. Unions do not want workers to have a choice, which is obvious by their rush to secure agreements for up to 10 years when in the past it was only 3 or 4 years.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 11:37 a.m.

Mrs. Biolchini - early in the article you referred to Michigan's right to work law as the "so-called right to work law". Are you interjecting your opinion how you personally feel about right to work by using the term so-called?

Amy Biolchini

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 1:35 p.m.

All, I replied to all of your comments in a new thread of my own below. I leave my opinions out of my reports.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 1:30 p.m.

Usual Suspect - Thank you for educating me that the term "right to work" is not part of the text or title of that legislation. The legal description is PA 176. And that the term "right to work" took on a colloquialism all on its own. Or one of the parties dubbed it that name.

Jack Gladney

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 12:58 p.m.

@dotdash Actually, "right to work" laws have long been identified in media stories as "right to work" laws. Per the editors and moderators of, this journalistic enterprise is very concerned with uniformity in its use of standardized terms as the Ann Arbor stories are re-posted by M-Live across the state and even by the AP. (see "undocumented migrants" vs. "illegal immigrants" as an example). So the addition of "so-called" creates a sense of editorialization for the reader in the piece and may well call into the question as to whether this was intended as an editorial comment or a statement of journalistic fact.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 12:49 p.m.

dotdash - yes, I agree that some legislation are named a certain way that give particular slants in their parties' interest. It happens on both sides of the aisle. In this case, when Mrs. Biolchini uses the term "so called", she is questioning the validity of that law. What is the purpose of this news article? Is it to report the facts that contract negotiations of seven county unions might try to come to an agreement before a legal deadline? Or is it for Mrs. Biolchini to question the validity of the law? Those two little words changed the scope of the article for me.

Usual Suspect

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 12:44 p.m.

I realize you were asking Amy, but.... I think using "so called" is proper here, because it wasn't actually called that, officially. Looking at the text of the bills for a title, you won't find "right to work," but you will find this: "A bill to amend 1939 PA 176, entitled 'An act to create a commission relative to labor disputes, and to prescribe its powers and duties; to provide for the mediation and arbitration of labor disputes, and the holding of elections thereon; to regulate the conduct of parties to labor disputes and to require the parties to follow certain procedures; to regulate and limit the right to strike and picket; to protect the rights and privileges of employees, including the right to organize and engage in lawful concerted activities; to protect the rights and privileges of employers; to make certain acts unlawful; and to prescribe means of enforcement and penalties for violations of this act'" So, perhaps in Michigan we don't give them nicknames like they do in Washington (e.g., "An act entitled The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.")


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 12:06 p.m.

But "right to work" is just a nickname. Like "pro choice" or "pro life", it has a particular slant, so I believe journalists are wise to point that out. Not to say "so-called" would be the injection of the journalist's personal opinion, it seems to me.