Labor negotiations in state government don't just hinge on consensus between unions and management. Agreement between union leaders and rank-and-file members is important, too — without it, delicate agreements can collapse without warning. Connecticut learned that lesson the hard way
earlier this year, when a few unions unexpectedly broke ranks and rejected a deal that appeared to be state workers' only alternative to widespread layoffs. That situation still isn't resolved.
Michigan state workers are no strangers to layoffs. So union leaders there are trying to take a more unified and preemptive approach in negotiations they are beginning with the administration of Republican Governor Rick Snyder. For the first time, unions representing the bulk of the state workforce have informed the Snyder administration that they will negotiate together on economic and fiscal issues and seek a universal contract. Any union-specific concerns about work conditions will be addressed separately.
"The people of Michigan are counting on us to work together and cut costs," United Auto Workers vice president Cindy Estrada told
Michigan's budget for the fiscal year that begins October 1 assumes $145 million in state employee concessions from union negotiations that are just gearing up now. State agencies have been instructed to prepare contingency plans that include layoffs and outsourcing of some services in case labor agreements can't be reached. A range of proposals that would require public employees at all levels of government to pay for up to 20 percent of their health insurance premiums also are pending in the legislature.
Major unions in Michigan have joined forces before. In May, they came together to put forward their own ideas
for how the state can cut costs and operate more efficiently; the unions are likely to emphasize many of those proposals in upcoming negotiations with Snyder's administration.
One idea unions have is to decrease the number of supervisors per staff. Currently there are about six front-line staff for every supervisor, and the unions say the state could save $75 million a year by moving to a ratio of approximately seven staff per supervisor. Labor leaders also recommend cutting spending on state contracts by 10 percent, or $100 million, by renegotiating or terminating agreements with private sector firms.
"State employees can successfully provide services at a lower cost than now spent on contractors," the unions' report on their suggestions says
. "As the agencies begin to realign resources toward service delivery, they should seek to become more self-reliant, while also pursuing better value from private sector partnership with Michigan firms."