After two Michigan universities circumvented new anti-union laws to lock in new labor contracts, Republican legislators in the state House are striking back with a new move to slash state funding to both schools.
Right-to-work legislation, which prevents employers from signing union contracts that require all workers to pay union dues, was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder in December. Snyder and state Republicans unexpectedly pushed the legislation through in a lame-duck legislative session after the governor had previously opposed it.
The Detroit Free Press reports that a budget bill sent to the floor by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education would cut $27.5 million to Wayne State University and $47.3 million to the University of Michigan's Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses.
Although the legislation raises total statewide funding for public universities by 2.2 percent, it has provisions to cut aid to institutions that renew union contracts or approve new ones from Dec. 10 of last year to March 28 of this year, according to the Detroit News. That deadline coincides with the date that the new right-to-work laws take effect. The legislation has yet to be approved by the full House of Representatives.
A tentative five-year contract was agreed upon between the University of Michigan and its Lecturers' Employee Organization on March 5, according to an American Federation of Teachers release. The agreement would represent over 1,500 non-tenured instructors at U-M's three campuses. The union hopes to ratify it by March 21.
Earlier this month Wayne State faculty and staff ratified an eight-year contract that provides for an annual salary increase of 2.5 percent for faculty staff that is partly contingent on performance, according the the Associated Press. The agreement will go before the WSU Board of Governors for a vote on Mar. 20, the Free Press reports.
Agreeing to the contracts before the right-to-work legislation goes into effect allows the two institutions to remain union workplaces and would prevent individual employees from opting out of union dues.
WSU Spokesman Matt Lockwood told Free Press the legislation, if passed, may force his institution to raise tuition.
Reacting to a February announcement about WSU's tentative union contract, Rep. Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville), chairman of the Higher Education Subcommittee, called the agreement "a slap in the face" to Michigan students.
"It appears to be constructed specifically to restrict the freedom of employees at Wayne State and forces them to pay union dues for the next eight years regardless of their membership in the union, which is an obvious and intentional circumvention of the law," he said.
WSU President Allan Gilmour told the Associated Press he felt his university was being "targeted" over the contract and took to its defense earlier this month.
“It is the result of hard work," he said, "based on the best interests of the university, our faculty and staff and our students, both now and in the future.”