HVCLC Endorsements for Jackson City Council

At our monthly meeting on Tuesday (Oct 6), HVCLC delegates endorsed three candidates in the Jackson City elections this November:

• Martin Griffin for Mayor
• Melissa Morse in Ward 4
• Derek Dobies in Ward 6

Here is the process by which we came to these endorsements. We first emailed invitations to all eight candidates in this year’s Jackson City Council elections to fill out an on-line questionnaire if they wanted to seek our endorsement. The questionnaire had about 20 questions designed to assess how well aligned the candidates are with policies that help working people and our labor movement.

Three candidates responded to this invitation by filling out our questionnaire. The HVCLC’s Committee on Political Education (COPE) read these candidates’ answers and interviewed them in Jackson on the evening of Thursday, October 1st. Our COPE then made recommendations that were discussed and voted on at the HVCLC’s October 6th Delegates’ meeting. After considerable discussion, the COPE’s recommendations were approved.

We will be mailing Jackson City union members to inform them of our endorsements and the process by which we came to them. We’ll then follow up with phone-banking.

HVCLC Endorses Expansion of Public Transit in Scio Township

The HVCLC endorses the proposed millage increase in Scio Township to support the expansion of public transit there.

This millage is going to cost the average home-owning family about $4 per month, while helping those who are too young to drive, too old to drive, or disabled in ways that prevent them from driving. It will also help people who cannot afford a car, because they are elderly and living on a fixed income, or because they are among the growing share of working people trapped in jobs that pay poverty wages.

Even in a relatively rich county like Washtenaw, University of Michigan researchers have shown that 9 out of the 10 most common jobs – and 9 out of 10 projected to create the most new jobs over the next ten years – pay full-time workers less than $32,000. That’s not enough to meet a modest “basic needs” budget, as the United Ways of Michigan explain in their recent report.

Bottom line: more and more people need access to high quality public transit. As for those of us who don’t need bus service right now, we ought to help those who do. That’s how we build solidarity and a sense of community – something we really need to do again – in our county and our country.

Here is information about the expanded service that the increase will provide.

HVCLC Progress on Mental Health Services at Washtenaw County Commission

     At our September 1st Delegates’ meeting, we heard reports about substantial cuts to mental health services, and job losses for members of two of the HVCLC’s AFSCME affiliates, to be passed the next night in Washtenaw County’s 2016 mental health services budget.  The cuts were the County Administration’s response to the sudden appearance of a $4.7 million deficit in that budget.   We vowed that evening to find out why this deficit had appeared, apparently without warning, to do what we could to reduce the damage in 2016, and to make sure that this did not happen again.   How were we going to do those things?  We didn’t know and we had about 24 hours to develop the first elements of a plan.

      The next meeting of the County Commission was Wednesday, September 2nd.   At that meeting, Commissioners who shared our concerns and wanted more time to investigate options, stopped the proposed budget from passing.  We now had a window of two weeks to work with concerned citizens, the County Administration, and our Commissioners, to develop and build a consensus around a realistic alternative response.

     As a first step, we had to formulate our own goals and strategies as leaders of our local labor movement.  A number of HVCLC officers and delegates met on Saturday, Sept 12th, to come up with three basic goals:

  • Preserve and maintain the best possible mental health services for Washtenaw County;
  • Protect the jobs and standards of living of all current Washtenaw County mental health employees; and
  • Realize the first two goals in ways that would honor the current labor contracts of AFSCME and Washtenaw County.

     The same meeting also came up with three concrete proposals to advance those goals:

  1. Reduce the scale of service cuts and job losses by finding $1.7 million to keep them going for at least half a year, during which a community planning process (see proposal 3, below) would develop longer range, sustainable responses;
  2. Ensure that the County’s Living Wage Ordinance (LWO) was not gutted by granting a permanent, blanket exemption to all of the approximately 110 mental health service providers contracting with the County – part of the budget proposal voted down on Wednesday; and
  3. Create a community planning process in which the County Administration and community organizations, including organized labor, would work together to develop strategies for addressing the fiscal challenges caused by institutional restructuring and cuts in mental health service funding from the Republican government in Lansing.

     On Thursday, Sept 10th, we met with the County’s Administration leadership team to learn about the underlying causes of the budget deficit, present our proposals, and get their feedback on them.  It was a very cordial meeting at which it became clear that serious efforts were already underway to mitigate the impact of cost cuts on County employees.  This effort, urged on by the Commissioners, with Felicia Brabec taking point, convinced us that there was potential for collaboration with the Administration and CSTS going forward.  County Administrator Verna McDaniel indicated qualified support for our community process proposal.  It was not entirely clear, at the end of our meeting, where things stood on our LWO proposal, but the Administration explained that if they did not have a blanket waiver of the LWO ordinance for FY2016, it was going to cause serious problems with other entities that also had to approve this budget, particularly the four-county PIHP (created by Lansing two years ago) to which CSTS (our county’s mental health service delivery branch) must now report.   We took that concern seriously, and later modified our proposal on that point.  Overall, we judged it to be a very good start to what we hope and expect to be a fruitful collaboration over the next six months and beyond.  

     We now had less than a week before the next Commission meeting.   We refined our proposals in light of what we’d learned in our meeting with Verna and her team, and began talking about our revised proposals in detail with County Commissioners.   

     By the time the Commission met again on Sept 16th, a majority of our Commissioners supported all three of our proposals.  That night, the Commission:

  • Approved a FY2016 budget that pulled together an additional $1.7 million to mitigate and delay immediate cuts to mental health services and jobs;
  • Agreed to grant a one-year blanket exemption to the County’s LWO to the approximately 110 organizations that will provide mental health services to the County in FY2016
    • These orgs will not be permanently exempted from the LWO, as originally proposed. Instead, they will have one year to make a case for any further extension, with the maximum exemption being three years as in the current LWO.
    • Only those orgs that apply and are approved will get any further exemption, and to get it, they will have to develop a plan to come into compliance by the end of Year 3 – the same process specified in the current LWO for securing an exemption.  
    • We will have access to the budget information necessary to independently access whether we think they have a good case for extended exemption.
  • Committed to a community planning process that will give the county’s two AFSCME unions and the HVCLC seats at the table, along with other community stakeholders, as we consider how to respond to the structural problems that the FY2016 budget cuts do not solve.   
  • As part of this process, the County will (to quote Commissioner Yousef Rahbi’s amendment language) “retain an independent 3rd party contractor to review the finances, revenues and expenditures of CMH and that this contractor will develop a list of actionable recommendations to help Washtenaw County stabilize the future of the county CMH.”  
  • The HVCLC has put forward Steve Fitton — a former Director of Michigan’s Medicaid program who played a key role in the approval and implementation of Healthy Michigan, the state’s expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare – as a person to interview for this role.  After some research, we believe that he has what it takes to meet this challenge.  He is not guaranteed the job, but we expect that he will be interviewed and we will be present at that interview.

     We have come a long way from the situation we faced at our Sept 1st Delegates meeting! We could not have made such rapid, substantial progress without the hard work of Nancy Heine, Cheryl Jones, Deb Schmitt, Wes Prater, Bob King, Tad Wysor, Ron Mottsinger and the other HVCLC delegates who came to one or both of the last two Wednesday Commission meetings.

      Also critical was the hard work and creative thinking of three Commissioners: Yousef Rabhi, Andy LaBarre, and Conan Smith.  Ronnie Peterson also backed our proposals throughout.  These Commissioners helped to convince all but one of the other Commissioners present that night to vote in support of each of these proposals.

      Also critical to these victories were the community organizations that mobilized members and consumers of mental health services to demonstrate to the Commissioners the strong public support that existed for developing a better way forward. Greg Pratt deserves particular credit on that front.
     Finally, Verna McDaniel and other Administration decision-makers such as Trish and Felicia (who is both a Commissioner and the Interim Director of CSTS), were genuinely open to the creation of a more inclusive and collaborative process. They were open to it because they are deeply committed to maintaining high quality mental health services to Washtenaw County residents. They had to be persuaded that the participation of the unions representing their employees — as well as the HVCLC and other community stakeholders — would help, rather than hinder, their efforts to realize that goal.  I think we achieved that.
     A lot of people worked very hard for two weeks straight to bring about these results and congratulations are due all around! There is much more work to be done, but we’ve just taken a major step forward in just two weeks.  In the process, we’ve also shown other organizations who have watched what happened here that our labor movement is getting better at working together in Washtenaw County.  And we’re using the power that comes from working together in constructive ways, to defend what is worth defending and initiate new processes where innovation is required.
     We’re making it clear that we have to be included in decisions that affect the lives of working people in our county.  There is a Detroit group whose slogan is “Nothing about us without us.”  That should be the labor movement’s philosophy too, along with “an injury to one is an injury to all.”  Solidarity!

HVCLC-Endorsed Candidates Win Ann Arbor Election

All four of the candidates endorsed by the HVCLC in the Ann Arbor City Council elections won on Tuesday night! Here are the final vote tallies for each of our candidates, followed by the number of votes won by their opponents.

Zach Ackerman: 947-907 Margin: 40 votes
Sabra Briere: 690-287 Margin: 403 votes
Jack Eaton: 1,082-709 Margin: 373 votes
Chip Smith: 1,613-1,302 Margin: 311 votes

We can’t take all the credit for these victories, clearly, but we most certainly contributed to them.

Thanks to all HVCLC volunteers who participated in our phone banks, and to leaders, delegates and activists who shared our endorsements with their members!

HVCLC 2015 Endorsements for Ann Arbor City Council

At the HVCLC’s monthly delegates’ meeting, on July 7th, 2015, delegates unanimously endorsed the Committee on Political Education’s recommendations for endorsements for Ann Arbor City Council. The four candidates endorsed are:

Ward 1: Sabra Briere
Ward 3: Zachary Ackerman
Ward 4: Jack Eaton
Ward 5: Chip Smith

The process by which we came to these endorsements was as follows:

  • Our President first contacted all Democratic candidates for Ann Arbor City Council positions and invited them, if they wished to be considered for our endorsement, to fill out an on-line survey.
  • Five candidates, of the 8 involved in a contested primary, filled out our survey. The HVCLC’s Committee on Political Education (COPE), which includes all members of our Executive Committee plus other delegates interested in participating, read each of these responses carefully.
  • We then met briefly with each of the five candidates who filled out our survey. This allowed us to ask follow-up questions and gave the candidates a chance to add to what they wrote in the survey.
  • With this information, supplemented with additional research where we thought it useful, the COPE made recommendations to the HVCLC’s Delegate body at our July 7th monthly meeting.
  • The HVCLC Delegates discussed and voted on the COPE’s recommendations, with the results you see above.

The HVCLC will be sending a letter to all affiliate members who live in Ann Arbor, conveying these endorsements and explaining the process by which we arrived at them. We will follow up on that mailing with phone banking. If you would like to help with this or related work, please let me know at e.ian.robinson@gmail.com

Growing Together or Drifting Apart report on Washtenaw County Inequality Released

Read Growing Together or Drifting Apart? Economic Well-Being in Washtenaw County’s new ‘Knowledge Economy’ (PDF)

Press conference for Washtenaw County inequality report: David Reynolds, Ypsilanti Mayer Amanda Edmonds, Pastor Jeff Harrold, and United Way Washtenaw's Pam Smith

Press conference for release of report

In March 2014, HVCLC President Ian Robinson, who is also a Research Scientist in Sociology, joined with a team of five other University of Michigan scholars – Tom Weisskopf, Howard Kimeldorf, David Reynolds, Roland Zullo, and Denise Bailey — to investigate what had happened to wages, poverty and economic inequality in Washtenaw County since 2005, and where we could expect those trends to go. On March 30, 2015, the Center for Labor and Community Studies, UM-Dearborn released, “Growing Together or Drifting Apart?” What the study found was very disturbing:

  • Income inequality in our county is on the rise.
  • Inequality is growing not just because the well-paid have experienced more rapid pay increases, but because at least three quarters of our county’s employees have seen their real pay – after taking account of inflation — decline.
  • This fall in real earnings has increased the share of Washtenaw County’s population who must be considered poor: in 2013, one third of workers and one quarter of households in our county did not earn enough to meet basic needs as defined in the Michigan United Way’s 2014 ALICE report.
  • Unless we do things, differently, the future looks no better: 9 out the 10 fastest growing jobs currently pay too little to meet the basic needs specified in the United Way report.

The significance of these results is clear: Past policies have worked for some, but they have failed far too many in our community. If we want a prosperous future for our county, we can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing.

The trends these scholars documented are found in most if not all American communities, and they have been growing since the mid-1970s. Should we be surprised to find the same trends here in our county? Perhaps not, but with three major, high-functioning institutions of higher education, and two top-notch hospital systems, we are on the cutting edge of the new knowledge economy. Some commentators think that if we can just shift Michigan into the place where Washtenaw County already is, everything will be fine. The study demonstrates that if we did that, Michigan would be better off than it is today, but things would not be fine at all.

The report makes just two recommendations. First, that we constitute a Task Force –comprised of community organization leaders, organized labor, business, elected officials and social science researchers — to investigate how other U.S. city and county governments have responded to the same challenges. Second, that the Task Force make recommendations about what our cities and our county can and ought to do to reverse these trends. That Task Force has now been constituted. Its members (in alphabetical order) are:

Mary Jo Callan (Director, Office of Community & Economic Development, Washtenaw         County)
Keta Cowan (Chief Executive Officer, Synod Community Services)
Amanda Edmonds (Mayor, City of Ypsilanti)
Chris Good (Director, Think Local First)
Jeff Harrold (Pastor, New Beginnings Community Church of Washtenaw County and Chair of Washtenaw Regional Organizing Coalition’s Education Action Team)
Jeff Irwin (Michigan House of Representatives, District 53)
Sean Duval (Vice-Chair, Workforce and Econ Development, Workforce Development Board; CEO of Golden Limousine)
Bob King (International President Emeritus, United Auto Workers)
Andy LaBarre (Commissioner, Washtenaw County Commission)
Rick McHugh (Staff Attorney, Midwest office, National Employment Law Project)
Yousef Rabhi (Commissioner, Washtenaw County Commission)
David Reynolds (Labor Studies Center, UM-Dearborn; Chair, Doing Development Differently in Metro Detroit)
Ian Robinson (President, Huron Valley Central Labor Council; Lecturer & Research Scientist, Dept of Sociology and Residential College, University of Michigan)
Paul Saginaw (Co-Founder and Co-owner, Zingerman’s Enterprises)
Pam Smith (President, United Way of Washtenaw County)
Sandi Smith (Co-owner, Trillium Real Estate)
Chuck Warpehoski (Ann Arbor City Council & Exec Dir, Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice)

UPDATE: For more about the inequality report, read Eclectablog’s take.