Leadership Transitions + Lame-Duck Legislation:
The More Things Change… |
Letter to the faculty
from WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick (2013-18) |
December 7, 2018 |
Last week when I started thinking about what I would say in this message, I was thinking about how much has changed over the last six years, particularly since December 11, 2012, when Gov. Rick Snyder signed Michigan’s so-called “right to work” (RTW) bills into law. The legislation had been introduced during the lame-duck session that year, amid massive protests outside the Capitol building in Lansing. It passed along party lines without public hearings by a majority party that knew it would not have the votes when the new legislature convened in January 2013.
What I had been thinking last week that I would write about was how far Michigan has come since that terrible, blustery day in Lansing in December 2012, when I protested alongside faculty colleagues and members of WMU’s AFSCME and AFT locals, along with thousands of other people from all across the state. It seemed surreal that this kind of legislation could even be on the table in Michigan, let alone that it could pass. But it did, and here we are.
There will be no turning the clock back on the effects of RTW in Michigan, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision earlier this year in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, which effectively nationalized RTW laws. Still, there are all kinds of other ways to improve the labor climate at the state level, provided that there is the political will to make it happen.
We have not seen much of that kind of political will in Lansing in recent years. Many of the values we share as the faculty of a public university, and as union members, have not been priorities for the majority party. Under their legislative and executive leadership, we have seen higher education funding decline and anti-labor legislation proliferate. In addition to RTW, we have witnessed the repeal of Michigan’s prevailing wage laws and ongoing attacks on the rights and benefits of K-12 educators.
But last month, Michigan voters elected an unapologetically pro-labor governor, Gretchen Whitmer. That means starting next month, while we still won’t have a labor-friendly legislature, Lansing will start to feel a little less unfriendly. In last month’s election, the labor-unfriendly folks lost five seats – and their supermajority – in the state Senate and another five seats in the state House. Should they pass anti-union legislation or bills that would harm public higher education in the next session, we can count on Gov. Whitmer to veto it.
There are still any number of challenges ahead of us, I was thinking I would write, on campus and beyond, but for the first time almost a decade, the balance of political power in Michigan feels like it may be moving in a pro-labor, pro-education direction. With significant majorities of voters saying yes last month to the ballot initiatives to end gerrymandering and make voting and registration easier and more accessible, there is good reason for even more optimism in the next few years.
That’s what I was thinking about last week. And it’s all still true. But now that the Michigan legislature’s lame-duck session is underway, things are getting a little more complicated.
As in North Carolina in 2016 and more recently in Wisconsin, Michigan is now also the scene of what appear to be anti-democratic power grabs by a party whose legislative dominance was reduced (although not reversed) and who lost control of the offices of governor, attorney general, and secretary of state when Michigan voters repudiated their candidates last month. They are now using bills introduced in the lame-duck session to try to limit the powers of those offices and also to weaken the anti-gerrymandering and voter-access initiatives, both of which voters favored overwhelmingly last month. Additionally, bills that would harm workers by cutting back planned minimum wage increases and paid sick leave protections have already passed both houses of the legislature and await the outgoing governor’s signature.
Several anti-union bills are also in the lame-duck mix, including Senate Bill 1260, which would require public-sector labor unions (like ours) to hold a recertification election every two years. It appears that the goal of SB 1260 is to try to neutralize union participation in electoral politics. The WMU-AAUP does not fund political candidates or ballot initiatives, so we are not a target for the bill’s sponsors, but that wouldn’t matter if this bill becomes law, because we would see the same increased demands on our resources as any other public-sector union, which would make it harder for us to do the work we are here to do: defend the contract and protect faculty rights.
When we came back to school after the holidays in January 2013, we had no way to know how the RTW laws would affect our chapter or our professional lives as university faculty and union members. Our contract was set to expire on September 5, 2014, after which date Western Michigan University would become a RTW campus.
We know now that we have not only survived RTW but have built significantly on the strength of our chapter and increased faculty engagement in union activities over the past six years. That doesn’t mean RTW wasn’t a serious blow to us after 40 years as an agency shop. It absolutely was. But more than anything, the continuing health and success of our chapter is a tribute to the more than 800 dues-paying members of the WMU-AAUP bargaining unit. Many of you took up the difficult but essential work of old-fashioned, on-the-ground, one-on-one union organizing and helped to plan and roll out our year-long contract campaign for the 2014 negotiation cycle. You’re the reason we’re still here, stronger than ever.
What we learned is that our model worked. Chapters in other states are following it now. They need to because the Janus v. AFSCME decision means that a lot of them are now where we were in 2013. Since RTW, we have had to direct more of our time and more of our chapter resources into organizing, outreach, and retention, no question. But we knew that was what it would take. We made a plan, we got ourselves trained, and most important, we collaborated. In small groups and large, within and across departments and colleges, on campus and in the community, the faculty showed up, had the conversations, and did the work. We did it with the understanding that in this new world of RTW, that work must be ongoing. And it has been.
After the election last month, I felt for the first time in six years a noticeable shift in the political energy in this state and the real possibility that positive change is in the offing. These lame-duck shenanigans, along with word of another anti-union case that is likely to end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court next year, have been an unwelcome reminder of how vigilant we are still going to have to be. In a country where for most of its history, citizens have mostly been able to count on peaceful transitions of power, these egregious attempted power grabs in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and now Michigan suggest that we may no longer be able to take for granted that the will of the electorate is going to be honored. Additionally, there is still well-funded, well-organized opposition to unions in this country and no chance that they will just give up and stop trying to ban collective action in the workplace and silence the voices of working people. If anything, they are emboldened by a string of recent victories in court and in state legislatures.
So, rather than a farewell message in which I say Yes! We have done all right! We are going to be OK! Things are going to get better! – although I still think all that is true – instead I will sign off my last message to the faculty as WMU-AAUP president with, perhaps appropriately, all things considered, a call to action:
First, we are going to need to be able to count on your continuing vigilance, your help to keep building strength and solidarity, and most of all, your visible and vocal engagement in the union. That means answering the call when you are needed, showing your allegiance proudly and unapologetically, and finding ways to support the organization that fit your schedule, your interests, and your skills. The WMU-AAUP has good work for everyone, a lot of it inspiring and even fun and all of it meaningful. Please plan to do more of it in 2019. (Bonus: It counts as professional service for tenure and promotion.)
Second, and this one’s more urgent: Please call, email, tweet at, post on their Facebook pages, and/or otherwise contact your state legislators and tell them to vote NO on these union-busting, anti-worker, anti-democratic lame-duck bills. Since unfortunately all are likely to pass both houses (at this writing, some already have), please also contact Gov. Rick Snyder and urge him to do the right thing by vetoing these terrible bills. At this point, he is going to be the only one who can stop any of this.
While we’re on the subject of electoral politics, I will say that while I am generally opposed on principle to term limits, I am happy to make an exception in the case of our chapter leadership. Identifying and developing emerging leaders, and then standing back so that they can lead, are essential elements for ensuring the health and evolution of an organization like ours. I am excited about the deep bench of incoming and upcoming chapter leaders and proud of the work we have been doing over the past six years to build it.
In that spirit, I am also very much looking forward to handing over the reins (to coin a phrase) to WMU-AAUP President-elect Carol Weideman when she takes office officially on January 1, 2019. Thanks to Carol, VP-elect Mark St. Martin, and contract officers Robert Trenary and Natalio Ohanna, who will both continue in their positions into the new year, the WMU-AAUP will be in excellent hands going forward. I am excited about the new directions Carol and her team will take us, and I know I can count on all of you to make sure she knows you have her back the way so many of you have always had mine.
It has been a delight to work with Carol, Robert, and Natalio, and with chapter secretary Tim Michael and treasurer Betsy Aller. It has also been a privilege to serve alongside our many other fine officers over the years, all of whom deserve to be recognized by name (and I apologize for not doing that here). The same goes for the dedicated members of the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee, our college-level reps, whose labor on the faculty’s behalf is tireless and indispensable. That is also true of the WMU-AAUP Association Council, our department reps, who are some of the savviest, most engaged union activists on our campus. What a joy it has been to work with you. And speaking of people with whom it is a joy to work, our chapter staff, Susan Esman and Lori Maguire, belong at the top of that list. Their loyalty to the faculty, institutional memory, and just straight-up awesomeness are invaluable to the success of the chapter. They have made my job unimaginably easier in more ways than I can count and probably in more ways than I even realize.
This is not the easiest job in the world and can feel damn near impossible at times. But it also comes with some incredible rewards (alas, not of the remunerative kind). What stands out the most for me is the opportunities I’ve had to meet and work with colleagues in every college and nearly every academic unit, many of whose paths I might never have crossed were it not for this job. I never stop being blown away by the innovative, important, and brilliant work you are doing as researchers, scholars, artists, and teachers; how much you give of yourselves to make sure our students thrive; how quietly, humbly, invisibly, and selflessly you do much of your work as professors; and what extraordinarily wise, thoughtful, generous, and (best of all) incredibly kind human beings you are. I am proud to work alongside you as your faculty colleague, and it has been an honor beyond anything I can express in words to have served as your WMU-AAUP president. Thank you for trusting me with this responsibility and this privilege.
Wishing everyone a joyous and restorative holiday season and a happy, healthy new year.
With gratitude and in solidarity,
Lisa C. Minnick
Guide to lame-duck legislation and contact info for elected officials:
- Anti-union bills (SB 1260, HB 6474, HB 5368):
- Other worker-unfriendly bills (SB 1171 and 1175) that would significantly reduce the previously approved minimum wage increase and paid sick leave requirements:
- Bills to try to strip power from newly elected governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and Board of Education:
- Bills that would weaken voter-approved ballot initiatives:
- Other lame-duck bills that may be of interest to WMU faculty:
Contact info for elected officials:
- State Senate, District 20 (Kalamazoo Co.): Sen. Margaret O’Brien: (517) 373-5100.
- If you live outside Kalamazoo Co, click here to find contact info for your state senator.
- State house, 60th District (City of Kalamazoo, part of Kalamazoo Township and part of Portage): Rep. Jon Hoadley (517-373-1785). Rep. Hoadley has already voted against bills that would gut the previously approved minimum wage increase and paid sick-leave provisions and told me last week that his vote on SB 1260 is “definitely NO.” He has been a consistent fighter for higher education and labor rights, so please take a minute to give him a call to thank him if you are so inclined.
- State house, 61st District (City of Portage, Townships of Oshtemo, Prairie Ronde, Schoolcraft and Texas): Rep. Brandt Iden (517-373-1774). Rep. Iden has already voted in favor of reducing the minimum wage increase and paid sick-leave requirements approved earlier this year. I don’t know that there is much hope here, but he definitely needs to hear from his constituents who are union members before SB 1260 goes to the House for a vote.
- Gov. Rick Snyder: (517) 373-3400. When you call, please leave your name and your city, and state your request that the governor VETO Senate Bill 1260 and all lame-duck bills whose passage would harm working people, public education, and the democratic process in Michigan.
814 Oakland Drive
Kalamazoo, Michigan 49008