Michigan bill punishes universities for skirting right-to-work

Republicans in the Michigan House of Representatives approved a bill earlier this week that will deny funding to any public university that attempts to sidestep right-to-work by capitulating to union contract demands.

All public employee union contracts that are approved before Michigan’s new right-to-work law takes effect at the end of March will effectively circumvent the law’s requirements. The faculty union contract recently approved by Wayne State University, for example, will force teachers to pay union dues for the next eight years.

In response, the House subcommittee on higher education appropriations approved a bill that cuts funding to WSU by 15 percent, The Detroit Free Press reported.

The tactic infuriated administrators at WSU, who threatened to raise tuition in response.

“This legislation is punishment in reaction to an eight-year contract that was concluded as part of the normal negotiations process, and well within the legal requirements of Right to Work,” said WSU spokesperson Matt Lockwood in a statement. “We will have no choice but to raise tuition.”

The WSU Board of Governors largely consists of Democrats, highlighting the partisan nature of the battle over implementation of right-to-work in Michigan.

The bill is worded so that it would also affect the University of Michigan, if UM approves a similarly lengthy contract. Universities must show that there employee contracts are actually saving money in order to avoid the 15 percent cut.

The Michigan legislature is Republican-controlled, meaning that the bill stands a good chance of achieving final passage.

“I think we’ve sent a serious message here,” said Rep. Al Pscholka, a Republican and chair of the subcommittee, in a statement. “This has to do with trying to circumvent state law. An eight-year contract doesn’t stand up for taxpayers. It’s very blatant what’s going on here.”

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