Mar 17, 2003
State of Michigan employees recently went to a union meeting about cutbacks where they heard about new Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm's plan to deeply cut state workers' pay and benefits.
She wants workers to give up:
an upcoming 3% raise;
a direct pay cut of 2.7%;
ten% more copays on health care;
longevity pay and step increases.
Add it up and Granholm wants every worker to give up $4,100 starting this October. She says the state has a big deficit. If so, it's because of what the state under previous administrations did with its money.
Former Governor John Engler gave tax breaks, cuts, abatements, outright gifts to big Michigan corporations, to the tune of fifteen billion dollars. This is the claim on the website of his own Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The current budget deficit is 1.7 billion dollars. Granholm may be a Democrat, but she's being very careful not to call Republican Engler to account for how he spent the state's money. And she certainly isn't proposing to go back to the wealthy people and corporations who got the money to get them to cover the deficit. Instead she threatens the workers – if they don't agree to the concessions, the state will cut thousands of jobs.
At the meeting organized by the state employees' UAW Local 6000, the local officers said that the UAW international gave them a legal ruling that management cannot unilaterally take away concessions as long as the current contract is in effect – until December 31, 2004. The union said the only legal thing the legislature can do is by a two-thirds vote it can take away a raise of state workers. That's all they can touch. And furthermore, whatever happens in terms of changes must go to the membership for a vote.
The workers shouldn't believe such reassurances. The legislature will give Granholm the 2/3 vote. And the workers should remember that when past contract-breaking concessions were brought up for votes, the topmost UAW leadership pressured workers to go along and accept the cuts, under the threat that they would lose their jobs if they didn't give concessions. But in those cases where workers gave up concessions, they discovered they lost their jobs too.
In front of this new extortion attempt, there's no need to cave in. Workers can refuse to be intimidated, find the ways to demonstrate their anger. One thing will give Granholm pause: a large, angry, continuing mobilization of workers. That's what's needed. Let Granholm find her money elsewhere.