Government, Higher Education, and Human Resources

Schools share mixed responses to RTW legislation

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A bill headed to Lansing’s House floor could cost Michigan’s public universities millions in state funding.

According to the bill, passed Tuesday by the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee with a vote of 4-3, public universities in Michigan that approve extended contracts for unionized employees could lose 15 percent in state funding if they approve those contracts before the Right-To-Work law goes into effect March 28. Under the bill, public universities’ employee contracts approved between Dec. 10 and March 28 must show more than 10 percent in savings or risk losing 15 percent in state aid.

The Associated Press estimates such a bill could cost the University of Michigan $41 million and Wayne State University $27 million this year.

Local West Michigan colleges and universities shared mixed reactions to the new bill.

“We have three bargaining units at Grand Valley, representing clerical staff, police officers, and maintenance, grounds and service staff. None of the three have formally requested a contract extension,” said Mary Eilleen Lyon, associate vice president for News and Information Services at Grand Valley State University.

“We have just begun regular bargaining with MGS staff, represented by AFSCME. This contract expires April 30, 2013, and we expect to conclude negotiations next month. The university's faculty and administrative/professional staff are not unionized.”

Davenport University will see little or no impact from the bill, said Rick Jensen, Davenport’s communications manager.

“Davenport does not have any unions. More importantly, Davenport does not receive subsidies directly from the state. Our students receive the Michigan Tuition Grant and other aid programs; however, those are grants to the student, not subsidies to the university,” Jensen said. “Our executive director of financial aid tells me that he believes this current legislation would have little to no impact on Davenport.”

Steven Ender, president of Grand Rapids Community College, said although he does not believe the bill would apply to GRCC, he is still concerned about its impact in costing institutions of higher learning money and failing to recognize local dynamics.

“This bill is designed to hurt institutions that they believe have deliberately tried to circumvent the law by trying contracts that were not already expired,” he said. “The problem with this bill is, in each one of these cases, there are circumstances as to why an organization works with their unions to extend a contract. Trying to extend one criterion to multiple institutions fails to grasp the dynamics going on in the conversations in those institutions.”

Ender also criticized the bill for punishing universities in light of the Right-To-Work law, which hasn’t been implemented yet and wouldn’t come into effect until March 28, akin to getting a speeding ticket the week before the speeding law changes, he said.

“A law not in effect now seems to have negative ramifications,” he said. “I have a little bit of problem enforcing a law in this method. They’re punishing those violating a law (that is) not in effect.”

Ender said he is not certain the bill will pass, but believes it will be contested before further action is taken.

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