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State board votes to limit public employee union powers

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The Michigan Civil Service Commission voted to limit the collective bargaining powers of 35,000 state employees Wednesday.

It got rid of an individual union's ability to bargain for things like seniority, overtime pay, and scheduling.

A few hundred people gathered before the Civil Service Commission met. Many were chanting, “Union Strong. Union Proud.”

Liz Burton is a chief union steward for the Michigan Department of Corrections. She says she’s frustrated because the board is taking away rights they deserve.

“I’m concerned with them taking away our overtime pay," said Burton. "I’m concerned with them taking away our seniority.”

Mary Ann Cullen says unions are responsible for benefits that lots of people receive.

“If anyone gets a lunch break, at all, they can thank a union. If anyone gets maternity leave, they can thank a union for that,” says Cullen.

Supportive board members say the new rules improve government efficiency.

Jase Bolger voted in favor of the changes. He says the new rules standardize some processes.

“We heard the examples of the silliness of seniority, where somebody’s time serving with the state in a different capacity wouldn’t be counted just because they don’t belong to that union," Bolger said. "So I think this improves the process, and ultimately is more responsible for taxpayers.”

Bob Swanson was the only "no" vote on the four-person board. He says the state took away rights the unions and state had previously bargained for.

“The state agreed to them. The state ratified them. It just seems to me to totally destroy the collective bargaining system to unilaterally abrogate those [agreements],” says Swanson.

Swanson is the only member not appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder. He was appointed by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R