Feb. 23, 2011
By: Karen Bouffard
Lansing – The state House today passed a package of bills to grant emergency financial managers the power to toss out union contracts and fire elected officials in cities, counties, townships and school districts operating at a deficit.
All 47 House Democrats voted no on the bills, which were easily passed by the GOP majority.
“I’m just disgusted” said Barbara Davenport, 76, of Pontiac, who was among hundreds of citizens who viewed the vote from the gallery – most opposed to the bills. “I think it’s unconstitutional to remove our elected officials.”
About 800 firefighters also are picketing at the Capitol against repeal of binding arbitration for police and firefighters – who are not legally allowed to strike.
Many are clad in bright yellow fireproof suits and wearing firefighter helmets while clutching signs saying “PA 312 protects you!” and “Public safety is the bottom line.”
It’s one of several demonstrations planned today against Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget and scores of bills introduced in the Legislature opponents say are anti-union. Nearly 1,000 union members protested at the Capitol last Tuesday, as well as a few dozen tea party supporters.
School and municipal workers showed up to protest the laws passed in the House that would grant broader powers to emergency financial managers.
“It’s like they pick the umpires and complain about the balls and strikes,” Chris Reynolds, district vice president for the Michigan Professional Firefighters Union, said about Republican lawmakers’ desire to get rid of the binding arbitration law, which was put in place as an alternative to a strike. “PA 312 has worked for more than 40 years (to keep firefighters from striking.)”We don’t want to strike, we just want to protect the public.”
Grand Rapids firefighter Kevin Fox said firefighters need arbitration to help settle disputes over wages, benefits and other issues. There needs to be a way to resolve disputes without going out on strike, he said.
“I don’t want to strike,” Fox said. “But I don’t want to lose my house either.”
Firefighters, police and teachers are barred from striking under the Public Employment Relations Act of 1947. Lawmakers passed PA 312 in 1969 to require binding arbitration for police and firefighters.
“They do have the ability to collectively bargain just as the teachers do,”said Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall. “The only thing PA 312 does is it treats police and firefighters differently by requiring (binding) arbitration and they are the only public employees that have this special circumstance.”