For Immediate Release: Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Frontline State Workers Who are Protecting Michiganders During the Pandemic Denounce Civil Service Commission’s Immoral Attack on Their Voice
Dedicated state employees say the commission’s latest attack is part of a larger, dangerous effort by the rich and powerful to erode America’s middle class
Lansing, MI- Frontline state workers are denouncing the Michigan Civil Service Commission’s recent rule changes as an immoral attack at a time when they are working long work hours to protect Michiganders during the pandemic. State workers–who include healthcare workers, road repair engineers, food and water safety inspectors, unemployment insurance call center workers, and lab technicians testing for COVID–say these rule changes will hurt their ability to advocate for good jobs and quality public services.
The four-member commission met on Monday, July 13 in Lansing, voting to approve changes which would end the deductions of union dues for all state employees every year, and require them to sign up all over again for deductions. The rule changes would also end the deduction of “service fees” which a small number of bargaining unit employees pay for the cost of union representation and contract bargaining. Commissioners James Barrett, Jase Bolger and Jeff Steffel voted for the changes, and commission chair Janet McClelland voted against them.
“When the Coronavirus first hit our state, we were working seven days a week in our lab to process all the samples, so we could protect the people of Michigan,” said Tonya Heyer, a microbiologist who has worked at the Department of Health and Human Services in Lansing for 11 years. “We’re processing virus samples from hospitals, nursing homes and testing centers all over the state. Having a union voice allows us to advocate for personal protective equipment and safety in our workplace, so we can continue to do our vital work safeguarding the health of Michiganders. It’s extremely concerning that the Civil Service Commissioners have attacked dedicated, frontline workers like me and my colleagues. I worry that those in the 1% who are behind these attacks are just going to keep increasing the gap between them and us in the struggling 99%. I’m raising a son and daughter, and I fear what their future will be like.”
State workers see the changes as part of a larger, dangerous effort by the rich and powerful to erode America’s middle class. The rule changes were supported by anti-worker think tanks like the Mackinac Center, which is funded by some of the largest U.S. corporations, CEOs and the ultra-rich, including the Charles Koch Foundation, the DeVos Foundation, the ExxonMobil Foundation, the General Motors Foundation, the Dow Foundation and Walton Family Foundation. Commissioner James Barrett sits on the board of directors of the Mackinac Center.
“At the Unemployment Insurance Agency, we’re very proud of our work, and want to help struggling working families get the benefits they need so they can keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table,” said Roland Whitelow, a father of four who has worked as an unemployment insurance agent in Detroit for 18 years. “I’ve been working around 10 hours a day, six days a week for four months, trying to process the skyrocketing claims as quickly as possible. State workers are vital to helping Michiganders get through this economic crisis and pandemic, and all we ask for in return is basic dignity, honesty and fair treatment on the job. Instead, the Civil Service Commission is trying to destroy our union voice so we don’t have any way to stand up for our families. The commissioners are foot soldiers in a bigger war by the rich to completely get rid of all unions, so working Americans will no longer be able to get healthcare, have financial security or send our children to college.”
Under the change to Rule 6-7.2, which would go into effect October 4, 2020, union dues “deductions for employees who had not authorized or reauthorized since the start of the previous fiscal year would end at the start of the first full pay period each new fiscal year.” Under the change to Rule 6-7.1, the state will permanently stop deducting all service fees on January 1, 2022.
The rule changes unfairly target unions, because the State Employee Contribution Campaign currently allows workers to give, through bi-weekly payroll deductions, to nearly 1,000 approved groups, and provides an option to remain as a continuous giver. However, state employees are denied this option to continuously contribute to their union, creating a double standard. State workers say these rule changes are a blatant attempt to set up unnecessary obstacles to paying union dues, in order to weaken their voice. In addition to these changes, in recent years the commission has made the process for authorizing dues deductions much more cumbersome, such as limiting access to the enrollment website and call center.
Members of SEIU Local 517M, which represents over 4,000 state workers in Michigan, will be launching a massive member communication program including email, mail, social media, Zoom calls and other strategies to educate state workers about the importance of having a strong union and increase the number of active members.
SEIU Local 517M represents almost 7,800 workers in state and local government and schools. Their mission is to advocate for quality public services and good jobs for all Michiganders.