State Senate OKs ban on taxpayer-paid union release time

By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING (AP) — School districts and other public employers would have to stop providing taxpayer-funded leave time for employees to conduct union business under legislation that was narrowly approved Tuesday by the Republican-led Michigan Senate.

The bill, which passed primarily along party lines with seven Republicans opposed, was sent to the GOP-controlled House, where a committee was planning to consider a similar measure.

The Senate vote was among the first in what will be a month-long “lame-duck” session — a last chance for lawmakers to approve legislation before Republican Gov. Rick Snyder makes way for the Democratic governor-elect, Gretchen Whitmer.

The main bill would prohibit many public entities from entering into or renewing bargaining agreements that require or allow paid release time for an employee to conduct union business if it is funded by the public employer.

Another bill would bar school workers from accruing service credit toward their pensions while on union release time.

“Bills like this only serve one purpose — they’re just another step in the systematic destruction of unions and workers’ rights,” said state Sen. Vincent Gregory, a Southfield Democrat and retired sheriff's detective who was a union leader.

He said union leave time arrangements are an efficient way to quickly resolve labor grievances and other issues.

No Republicans spoke in support of the legislation during the floor debate, but some previously said they think it would save taxpayers money.

The proposed restriction would not apply to police, firefighters, corrections officers and employees of a transit authority that seeks or receives federal funding.

The nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency says 2015 data show that 67 of Michigan’s 545 traditional K-12 school districts had employer-paid leave or release time for union officers, which cost about $2.7 million a year.

The legislation could lead to $2.7 million in savings annually unless other concessions were negotiated in lieu of union leave time provisions, according to the analysis.