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Unions, Snyder administration can’t agree on who should attend contract talks

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration and state employee unions are arguing about who should be in the room during contract bargaining.

It’s thrown a wrench into talks on contracts that will begin in 2015 for 35,000 union-represented workers including Department of Human Services caseworkers, environmental scientists, and corrections officers.

The five unions would like to bargain as a single unit with State Employer Jan Winter. She is Governor Rick Snyder’s lead negotiator. Coalition bargaining was tried two years ago and, even though the talks went down to the wire, both sides said they were satisfied with the result.

But, this year, Winter says she’d like to have fewer people actually at the bargaining table. She says the presence of bargaining committees made up of state employees makes the negotiations unwieldy, and she’d prefer to deal strictly with union leaders.

“When it comes to coordinating bargaining with more than one union, we believe the process can be made more efficient and effective by meeting collectively with leaders and a smaller number of representatives as we did when the final agreement was reached in 2011 rather than with nearly 100 people in a bargaining room,” said Winter spokesman Kurt Weiss in an e-mail.

The unions say that’s a non-starter with them.

“They’re trying to divide the unions,” says UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada. “Your bargaining committees need to be there.”

Estrada says the members of the bargaining committee can offer immediate feedback on what departmental workers will and will not find acceptable. She says their presence in the talks also make them a valuable resource when it comes time to sell the contracts to the members. 

The unions say this also represents a turnaround by the Snyder administration on its commitment to joint union bargaining sessions.

For now, the state will carry on separate negotiations with each of the unions. The unions are United Auto Workers Local 6000, the Michigan State Employees Association,  Service Employees International Union Locals 517M and 526M, the Michigan Corrections Organization, and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 25 and Local 5. 

Estrada says the bargaining committees will be present for those talks. She says the unions have also agreed to negotiate matching contracts with the state. The Snyder administration needs the contracts wrapped up by the end of the year so they can be incorporated into a 2015 budget proposal that’s due early next year.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.