Democracy Tree

The Siege on Michigan Public Education – By the Numbers

The Siege on Michigan Public Education – By the Numbers

By Amy Kerr Hardin at Democracy Tree

Democracy Tree reported late last week that the effects of anti-union laws directed at Michigan teachers, including the ban on payroll deduction of dues and right-to-work, had a miniscule impact on the voluntary payment of dues among Michigan Education Association members.

MEA president Steve Cook said a mere 1 percent didn’t pay. The GOP scheme was a flop.

While that number by itself speaks of the utter failure of bullying tactics employed by the Michigan legislature, it says even more when put in a larger context. Here are some more numbers that make that 1 percent non-payment truly astounding.

Let’s start with the soft numbers.

Although it’s difficult to pin down, somewhere between 41 and 51 percent of MEA and NEA members are Democrats. The results vary by study and by year (and possibly who’s reporting them). Similarly, about 25 percent, more or less, identify as Republicans and the rest as Independents. Without citing or clinging to any particular study or survey here, if those numbers are even remotely close to accurate, they say plenty about how teachers place the importance of their union membership over political affiliation.  And, even if those numbers are wildly inaccurate, it is safe to say that the Democrat to Republican ratio among Michigan teachers is certainly not 99 to 1.

Now, here are some hard numbers to gnaw on.

  • MEA union dues are currently set at 1.5 percent of the previous year’s salary, with an annual cap of $635 — a figure 99 percent are willingly to pay for representation they value– even under the GOP assault.
  • Average beginning pay for Michigan K-12 teachers is $34,100. Average overall salary for Michigan teachers is $55,541.
  • Lawmakers in Michigan earn $71,685, which is among the highest nationwide. Their expense account offers another $10,800 a year, with additional generous allowances for transportation costs and staff.
  • Nearly all public school teachers spend heavily out-of-pocket to supply their classroom — a National School Supply and Equipment Association Survey found that 99.5 percent spent on average $485 a year for classroom materials. That dollar number reflects 1.4 percent of an entry-level teacher’s salary in Michigan.

There are additional hard numbers that demonstrate the depth and breadth of the siege on Michigan’s educators.

Some very disturbing trends were uncovered in a recent analysis conducted by the Citizens Research Council. Their report titled Michigan’s Single-State Recession and its Effects on Public Employment, spurred them to conduct a comparative state-by-state analysis of public sector employment trends since the 2007 “Great Recession”, with Michigan public education numbers in focus. They drew from data found in another report from The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. They found the following trends (emphasis mine):

Over the nearly four and one-half year period examined by the Rockefeller Institute, Michigan had the third largest slide in public sector employment (7.4 percent), behind Nevada (10.1 percent) and Rhode Island (8.3 percent).  In percentage terms, Michigan’s decline was nearly three times as large as the total U.S. public sector employment decline over this period (2.7 percent).  As documented in the CRC report, and confirmed by the Rockefeller Institute, job losses in the local government sector (11.4 percent – second largest decline behind Nevada) fueled the overall public sector decline in Michigan, as was the case for the nation as a whole (3.2 percent).

The job losses they cite in the “local government sector” are primarily from one subset — K-12 education.

Michigan’s job losses in this sector have been much more severe (more than a factor of four) compared to the U.S. total during the Great Recession…the losses have been fueled by the consistent plunge in education jobs (primarily K-12 education).  Education employment for the U.S. declined more than non-education, but the difference between the two sub-sectors was not as significant as the decline in Michigan.  For the U.S., education lost about 3.5 percent of the jobs in existence in December 2007, compared to a loss of about 2.0 percent of the non-education jobs.  Michigan, in stark contrast, shed over 17.8 percent of the jobs in education compared to the December 2007 level.  Non-education local government employment, which is dominated by public safety, is 6.8 percent below the December 2007.  This job loss is nearly three times as large as the loss in the U.S. for this sector.

The CRC drives the point home with the following observation:

What is striking from analyzing the data is the fact that Michigan’s employment contraction in [the public] sector has well exceeded the contraction experienced in the U.S. overall.   The job losses have been most acute in the local government sector, especially education.

Numbers don’t lie — Michigan public education is in great peril.

Amy Kerr Hardin

Michigan House to Punish Counties Over RTW

Michigan House to Punish Counties Over RTW

In a legislative frenzy only to be rivaled by the great lameduck circle-jerk of 2012, Michigan lawmakers are churning-out stop-gap bills meant to do nothing more than punish unions and employers for negotiating in good faith.

A number of laws, including Right-to-Work, are set to take effect this week. As Democracy Tree reported last month, numerous state universities were renegotiating their contracts for ten year terms in amicable agreements across the table designed to stabilize relations in the face of the pending contract wars that would otherwise ensue under RTW. Lawmakers quickly responded by entering a bill that would penalize these institutions 15 percent for bargaining in good faith prior to enactment of RTW, and the contentious chaos it will bring.

Last week, Washtenaw County, also acting in good faith, legally renegotiated their contract in an effort to avoid the predictable divisiveness of RTW. In another legislative temper tantrum, House lawmakers have again crafted a bill to similarly punish units of government for cooperating with their unions. what rtw laws actually do

Yesterday, the House General Government Appropriations Subcommittee approved a bill to withhold an un-specified amount of revenue sharing from units of government that work with their unions.

These bills make the GOP motive crystal clear:  They are intended to create tension between public sector workers and their employers. They are not the acts of statesmen — they are the petty and unprofessional misbehaviors of children dressed in suits.

Additionally, this demonstrates the woeful lack of knowledge of our elected leaders. Research found that Michigan public sector employers are happy with their union relationships, and that the premise behind RTW is utterly false.

The University of Michigan recently collaborated with Michigan Public Policy Survey late last year on an extensive research project that found that Michigan’s local units of government were satisfied with their union relationships and negotiations.

In a RTW study conducted by the Michigan State University School of Human Resources and Labor Relations, published in January 2011 by the Employment Policy Research Network, examined the economic impact in all 50 states over a three year period, comparing and contrasting RTW states to those that had strong labor standards. Among their key findings:

  • “…high wages increase aggregate demand in the state leading to increased economic activity.”
  • “Right-to-work laws and taxes seem to have no effect on economic activity. Similarly, unionization has little effect on economic activity.”
  • “…unionized firms are able to use productivity enhancements to offset any higher costs associated with collective bargaining.”
  • “…results suggest that the benefits of Right-to-work laws and tax reductions may be more political than economic.”

Michigan lawmakers should be ashamed of themselves.

Gov. Snyder has equivocated in his remarks about legislating penalties against the public sector for acting in good faith. If history teaches us anything, it is clear Michigan cannot predict what Snyder will do out of political expediency.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

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Corporate Bullies Without Borders — Canadian Style

275px-Bob_and_Doug_McKenzie[1]Canada, the great white north — land of Mounties, lumberjacks, double-doubles, twofers, toques and universal healthcare. Nice people, one and all, eh?

Not so much anymore. At least not their corporations — specifically, in the oilpatch.

A few Canuck corporate hosers are spoiling their nations’ pure-as-the-driven-snow reputation by suing its citizenry left and right, and they are spreading the litigious beaver taint to their neighbor to the south. As Democracy Tree reported last month, TransCanada sued some Texas environmental activists into silence, but that’s just the tip the iceberg.

Canada has traditionally enjoyed broad free speech protections under their constitutional Charter — Section 2(b) states that  “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: … freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.” Canadian courts have a long history of upholding these rights and consistently supporting expression over controls.

But in April of last year, the Canadian Supreme Court approved Ontario Corporations’ ability to file cross-border defamation lawsuits, which are frequently SLAPP suits (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) meant to silence dissent and activism through unending legal harassment and intimidation. The Canadian oilpatch has a long history of SLAPPing activists, and now they can ship more than just their oil around the world– they can export legal terrorism as well.  In the wake of a dramatic increase in the use of this tactic, the Ontario government convened a group of legal experts to form an Anti-SLAPP Advisory Panel whose efforts help provide some domestic protections and remedies.

As recently reported in AlertNet, these corporate bullies have found a new way to harass activist organizations within their borders. Late last year, Ethical Oil.org, a lobby group for oil sands development demanded the Canada Revenue Agency (equivalent to the IRS) investigate alleged tax code violations of various non-profit environmental agencies, included among them are the Canadian Sierra Club, Tides Canada, Environmental Defense and the David Suzuki Foundation. Repeated threats of tax audits would not be covered under anti-SLAPP policies.

It’s only a matter of time before these corporations try making similar claims in the U.S., and elsewhere, about the tax exempt status of environmental non-profits. The IRS has traditionally been reluctant to pull tax exempt status from churches that blatantly engage in political speech, so let’s hope they have the good sense to say “take-off, you hoser!” to these Canadian bullies.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

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Pontiac Emergency Manager Gets Spanked in Court

images[1]Lou Schimmel, Emergency Manager of Pontiac Michigan just got spanked by Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Rae Lee Chabot for violating the Open Meetings Act when he cut the city’s pension board from 11 to 5 members. Chabot said Schimmel’s action “looks like a dictatorship” .

Schimmel claims that he was just trying to save the city money.

Sure.

Last March, Democracy Tree investigated some of the hypocrisies of the Schimmel administration, and found he had no trouble violating his own convictions regarding unfunded mandates and taking an exorbitant salary on Pontiac’s dime, in the form of an unfunded mandate.

Under the recently repealed PA-4, and now again under reinstated PA-72, Emergency Managers are paid through an unconstitutional mandate. When PA-436 takes effect on March 27, 2013, the salaries are to be covered out of a state fund. This change took the form of an appropriation to the new law — an appropriation which by the constitution, made the new law referendum-proof.

Here’s what was discovered last March (a sordid tale of bald-faced hypocrisy):

Unfunded mandates, the scourge of Michigan cities and schools for over three decades. The Legislative Commission on Statutory Mandates was empowered by Michigan lawmakers in 2007 to investigate this widespread unconstitutional practice. The Headlee Amendment  is unambiguous as to the illegal nature of the State enacting laws that place the funding burden on local units of government and school districts.

This committee produced a scathing report that rebuked Michigan lawmakers for blatant and repeated violations of the constitution — in 2009 alone they legislated over $2.2 billion in unfunded mandates. The blue ribbon panel was comprised of five respected experts, included among them was Lou Schimmel, of Municipal Financial Consultants, Inc. The group made very specific recommendations on how the state can avoid any future violations of Headlee. The panel advised creating a legislative oversight “special master” to enforce the provisions of the amendment and thereby protecting our cities and schools from unfunded mandates.

The conclusion was clear:  unfunded mandates were a major cause of fiscal stress on local units of government in the State of Michigan.

Fast forward to early 2011 when Public Act-4, The Emergency Manager Bill, was signed into law by Michigan’s Gov. Rick Snyder — that’s when a joke of sorts started making the rounds. At that time it became widely known that the training program for Emergency Managers (EMs) was a short 12 hour course, a day and a half, with lunch, that cost only $175.00. The law requires an EM to possess a paltry five years of unspecified “business” experience to run a city or school district and earn a generous salary of up to $250,000 plus benies. (This begs the question: Does that mean the guy with all the facial piercings at the Taco Bell drive-up qualifies? He’s been there quite a while.)  But, that’s not the “joke”.  No, it was what everyone said upon learning those facts: “I want that job!”  Who can blame them, it does sound like a pretty sweet gig.

At about the same time that Schimmel was decrying the horrors of those unconstitutional unfunded mandates, he also became the Director of Municipal Finance at The Mackinac Center for Public Policy. While in that position he conducted a fiscal analysis of the City of Pontiac in which he advocated for the privatization of much of their services as a solution to their financial woes, much of which were directly caused by the burden of unfunded mandates. Then in early 2011, through his position at the Mackinac Center, Schimmel started lobbying newly inaugurated Governor Snyder for strengthening the powers of the old Emergency Financial Managers found under Public Act 72 of 1990. Schimmel called for a “far more powerful”  EM — he wanted to see local dictators in Michigan cities, especially Pontiac.

Nine months later, Lou Schimmel was coronated as the all-powerful dictator of the City of Pontiac, with a salary of $150,000, plus benefits and full staff — all paid for through an unfunded mandate. Public Act-4 was very specific in its demand that all costs are to be the burden of the unit of government being seized — the law unabashedly violated Michigan’s constitution. Michigan’s legislature had become so cavalier about its addiction to unfunded mandates that they actually put it in writing that time. Most of these mandates are passive, in that the laws demand compliance without specifying the source of funding, leaving the cost burden on cities and schools who try to squeeze it out of their shrinking budgets, while ballooning their deficits.

Emergency Manager salaries currently range between $132,000 and $225,000. The typical defense for the high salary, compared to that of the elected officials they replace, is the demanding nature of the job. In fact, some of these EMs have cried foul about public criticism of their compensation claiming they are taking a pay cut because they could earn much more in the private sector. They paint themselves as making a great personal sacrifice to do their civic duty by “helping” these struggling municipalities.

Again, sure.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

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Michigan Lawmakers Get One Thing Right for a Change

Hidden among the flotsam in the recent Tea Party tidal wave of mostly ALEC legislation shoved through the Michigan legislature in the last minute lame-duck frenzy earlier this month, we find a bill to prohibit employers from snooping on worker/job applicant social media. HB 5523 imposes penalties of up to 93 days in jail and a $1,000 fine as the price for employer snooping.

Last April, when the issue of Facebook password privacy was in the news, Democracy Tree did a little sleuthing on the issue, and found that there already exist plenty of legal privacy protections which readily apply to social media — but that doesn’t necessarily mean a new law is a bad idea.

In fact, this law may be one of the few gems Michigan’s 96th legislature produced.

Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr….they’ve become ubiquitous to modern life. In fact, to not have a social media presence is actually a sign of being behind the times to many employers. Social media skills are fast becoming a job requirement in many fields.

Yet, less than half of employers track social media at all — 39 percent of them admit to following the online activity of job applicants on occasion, with only 9 percent of them snooping on a regular basis. Given the flurry of legislative fixes, one would think it’s a widespread practice.

Since it’s so easy to do, why are so few companies engaging in Internet voyeurism? And why do we need a specific law at all? More →

Detroit Free Press Snyder Endorsement Actually Predicted How He Would Screw Michigan

That ill-advised Snyder endorsement contained a hidden gem….one the Detroit Free Press hopes readers won’t revisit.

It’s not often that a major metropolitan newspaper editorial board makes the news over an opinion piece, but that’s just what happened this past week as the Detroit Free Press backed-out of Governor Snyder’s camp like it was suddenly a circulation-killing leper colony. Their “opinion” diatribe displayed a full-blown case of the second stage of grief: Anger — after having lingered on the first stage: Denial, for nearly two years post their endorsement of the governor. Snyder’s about-face on Right-to-work spelled the end of their steamy relationship. The Free Press went well beyond dumping, they completely sanitized themselves of their affection for his dirty politics.

The editors would be well served to examine how much journalistic research was invested in identifying their candidate of choice. On the surface, without even comparing and contrasting Snyder to Virg Bernero, his Democratic foe, you’d think a responsible editorial board would at least question the wisdom of putting a known corporate raider in charge of a state that earned a solid “F” on its Corruption Risk Report Card from the State Integrity Investigation Project. Wide-open for potential corruption, Michigan ranks 44th, with all three branches of government receiving individual flunking grades. More →

Michigan Lawmakers’ Attack on Women

Blessed be the Lawmakers — A Seasonal Kind of Celebration….

by Amy Kerr Hardin | Democracy Tree

Oh ye fine ladies, tis anon thouest doth pay homage to thine heroes of ye honourable Michigan O’Legislature – cometh now, permit not thou pouteth such, be ye good fair maidens and displayeth proper respect and beareth due homage uponst thine finest of menfolk… 

Exalt! Courageous leaders be they!

Get your shit together girlfriends, sit down, sinch-up your wimples, cross those ankles, hands in lap, and give a demure smile of thanks for the Republican leaders that boldly saved you from the assault of multiple heinous bills and resolutions, all bravely slain in committee, with no chance of disturbing your pretty little heads.

Let us now enumerate the laws slain by Republicans to protect the gentler sex (a solemn reading, please bow your heads, chicas)– More →

A Ballot Proposal Too Far – Michigan’s Proposition 6

My friends and I, along with many dedicated democracy lovers in the statewide coalition Stand Up for Democracy, have spent over a year and a half campaigning and fighting for our basic right to home rule in the state of Michigan. We ran an honest and earnest petition drive with great integrity, and that is why we prevailed. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it, and with plenty more hard work and a bit of luck, we will enjoy success in the good fight in November.

…If you live in Michigan and own a functioning TV set, you know all about Prop 6, and you probably have exercised use of the mute function on your remote more than usual these past few months.

…The ads are more than fact-challenged — they are unabashedly based on complete lies.

…Prop 6 is nothing more than a bunch of rich asshole friends of the owners of the Ambassador Bridge, the Moroun family, pooling their millions to attempt to hijack and re-purpose the on-going progressive movement to protect education, public services, and our teachers and firefighters.

Tell your friends not to be fooled.

To read Amy Kerr Hardin’s complete post at Democracy Tree, please click here.

New Links

We are glad to add links to Bob Sloan’s diaries – for those who want to see all that he has posted on the Daily Kos – to our list of Favorite sites.

We have also added a link to the BecauseICan blog, as 2old2care is one of our favorite bloggers.  Her “musings” about ALEC are generally brilliant as she is a superb analyst of the facts, and her writing style is so enjoyable.

Also, we have linked up with Amy Kerr Hardin’s “Democracy Tree”.  Amy is quite involved in Michigan politics, and covers all sorts of topics that will appeal to our large number of Michigan readers.

While our first link is to ALECExposed, and we are not opposed to links with other authoritative ALEC experts, we want to develop a network of links with sites that write about the effects of ALEC legislation, how they manipulate public policy, and how they impact real people.  If you would like to suggest a mutual linking of another site with vltp.net, please let us know at info@vltp.net 

Thank you all very much for choosing to visit our site and read our postings.  In the words of one of our finest Supreme Court Justices, Louis Brandeis, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”