Michigan emergency managers bill on its way to passage
Though Gov. Rick Snyder says he is not interested in hurting unions, yesterday’s Senate approval of a package that gives Emergency Managers complete power over financially troubled towns and school districts means he will soon be asked to sign off on measures that are expected to eliminate union jobs across the state.
In a party line vote, and despite impassioned speeches of protest by the body’s Democratic minority, the Michigan Senate approved legislation that threatens to take over and even dissolve local governments that refuse to balance their budgets by breaking labor contracts.
According to the law, which has already been approved in the House, the governor will be able to declare “financial emergency” in towns or school districts and appoint someone to fire local elected officials, break contracts, seize and sell assets, and eliminate services.
Under the law whole cities or school districts could be eliminated without any public participation or oversight, and amendments designed to provide minimal safeguards and public involvement were voted down.
An amendment to require Emergency Managers to hold monthly public meetings to let people know how they are governing was rejected by Senate Republicans, along with proposals to cap Emergency Manager compensation and require that those appointed to run school districts have some background in education.
Critics say that Republicans are manipulating concerns about budget problems in order to consolidate power by undermining unions. The measure could be sent to the governor for final approval this week.
The Michigan bill cleared the Senate on the same day that Republicans in Wisconsin broke a weeks long standoff and passed a bill severely restricting collective bargaining rights for public employees in that state. Similar efforts are in process in Ohio, Indiana and other states across the country.
Though the Wisconsin law has received the most media attention, by allowing the takeover of whole towns and schools the Michigan legislation could be much more far reaching.
“It takes every decision in a city or school district and puts it in the hands of the manager, from when the streets get plowed to who plows them and how much they are paid,” said Michigan State AFL-CIO president Mark Gaffney. “In schools, the manager would decide academics or if you have athletics.”
“This is a takeover by the right wing and it’s an assault on democracy like I’ve never seen,“ Gaffney said.
In Wisconsin, supporters of workers rights are rallying at the capital and plans for legal challenges to the law and recall petitions for Gov. Scott Walker and Republican state senators are in the works.
It is unclear how labor and other groups will respond to Michigan’s emergency takeover legislation. Though there have been protests at the Capitol by union workers, the numbers haven’t been as high as for similar protests in Wisconsin.
In an interview with Rachel Maddow last night, filmmaker Michael Moore called for demonstrators to converge on the Capitol in large numbers in Lansing today.
“Go to Lansing,“ he said. “Tell Gov. Rick Snyder you won’t let him kill our unions and take away our right to vote for mayor.”