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.

Solidarity with Workers Opposing Right to Work in Wisconsin

Like Governor Snyder did in Michigan in 2012, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin is now attempting to ram a “Right To Work” bill through the Wisconsin state legislature.

Ruth Conniff in the Madison-based magazine The Progressive  (Scott Walker: Big, Bold, and Wrong , 2/24/15), writes:

“Sticking it to unions [..] depresses wages and investment in public schools. In the twenty-five right-to-work states, the Economic Policy Institute reports that average wages for both union and non-union workers are $1500 a year lower than in states that don’t have right-to-work laws (“right to work” means all workers are entitled to union benefits but don’t have to pay union dues, effectively shutting down the power of unions to fund their organizing work.)

Right to work states also spend 30 percent less on education.

Kevin Gundlach, president of the South Central Federation of Labor, disputes the idea that ordinary citizens of Wisconsin support Walker’s union-busting politics.

“We spent months traveling all over Wisconsin, talking to union and non-union workers in every corner of the state, and not one person talked about Act 10 or right-to-work as a priority,” Gundlach says.”

Huron Valley Central Labor Council members can follow (and participate in) the situation in Wisconsin on social media:

Facebook: Citizen Action Wisconsin , Wisconsin AFL-CIO , Defeat “Right to Work” in Wisconsin

Twitter Hashtags to watch: #wiunion #wipolitics , #righttowork

You can also donate to the legal defense fund for the Wisconsin AFL-CIO here .

HVCLC Movement Building Workshop: Why We Need It & What Affiliates Can Do

We learned two things last November: first, while a number of dedicated volunteers and union staff worked their butts off for the Worker Voice effort, we didn’t have enough member volunteers to get our effort to the level we needed to win the Governor or narrow the gap in the state legislature; and second, because most if not all Michigan unions are going to see their contracts expire before we get out from under “Right to Work” legislation, the threat of declining membership and falling dues revenues is real.

Both of these challenges can be overcome, and both have the same solution: organizing many more member volunteers / activists. With a team of such activists in each of our locals, we can have one-on-one organizing conversations with others our bargaining units on a scale that we can never achieve if we rely on staff alone.   Member-to-member organizing conversations are the way we persuade members who may be wavering about whether to stay in the union when RTW comes; they are also the way we get members who share our values but have been standing on the sidelines to get active.   Organizing conversations are labor intensive – we need a lot of person-power to do them – but there is no substitute and no alternative if we are going to rebuild the power of our labor movement in this county.

Our Feb 7th workshop will be the first of a series of HVCLC workshops designed to achieve this purpose.   The people thus recruited are encouraged to attend our next workshop (held about 2 months later); they then go out and recruit as well.   Member activists who came to the first workshop will also be encouraged to come to the subsequent ones – they already have the initial member organizing training – but we can do follow-up / more advanced skill development with them. We will also encourage everyone to come and participate in the March Planning Retreat.

Our Workshop planning group – Ian Robinson, David Reynolds, Steve Gulick, Grace Trudell, Tad Wysor, Sheila Pedersen, John Ware, Kelly Anthony and Ron Motsinger – has produced the Workshop Agenda.

What we need beyond a good design and workshop facilitators is a lot of participants! I’m asking leaders and activists in all of our affiliates to identify at least two of your members or leaders who you think are interested in organizing work or that you’d like to move in that direction.

As painful as it was, November highlighted areas where we need to and can strengthen our labor-based progressive movement. It’s not all about Lansing. We can do a lot right here on our home turf, where we are considerably stronger than we are in Lansing. I’m excited about the new potential for a united local labor movement, with new allies and creative initiatives, to quickly begin turning the tide. I’m looking forward to working with you and your local as we take these movement-building steps together. Please let us in the HVCLC leadership know how we can help.

Help Restore the Prevailing Wage in Livingston County!


What the Board Did

On Monday, August 4, a bare majority of the Livingston County Board of Commissioners voted to abolish their prevailing wage ordinance. The measure had come out of the Board’s Finance Committee 9-0 the week before, and was on the Commission’s consent agenda, but nine community members spoke against it, causing it to be removed from the consent agenda. Operating Engineers has a 550 acre training facility in the county that pays $80,000 a year in taxes and has a huge economic impact with all the people they bring in for training. Their spokespeople were very persuasive. One commissioner said she could go either way, but ended up voting yes (against prevailing wage). In the end, the vote was 5 to 4 in favor of the following resolution:

RESOLUTION NO: 2014-08-236
WHEREAS, Michigan is now a “right to work” state allowing contractors and workers alike to participate freely in the construction industry.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that all future construction projects funded by Livingston County taxpayers will not require prevailing wage.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Board of Commissioners will consider waiving this prohibition for any future construction projects if Federal or State funding sources mandate prevailing wage.

How the individual Commissioners voted
Yes (to get rid of the prevailing wage requirement): Kate Lawrence, District 1; William Green, District 2; David Domas, District 3; Ronald VanHouten, District 4; Donald Parker, District 5.
No (to retain the prevailing wage requirement): Steve Williams, District 6; Carol Griffiths, District 7 (chair); Dennis Dolan, District 8 (former plumber), and Gary Childs, District 9.
Commissioner Domas was the prime mover on the Yes side, strongly supported by Commissioner Parker, who disingenuously claimed that any business that wants to bid prevailing wage is still free to do so. Among the Commissioners, it was Commissioner Dolan he did most of the arguing against it, but Commissioner Childs was also a strong opponent. It was Commissioner Kate Lawrence, former mayor of Brighton, who said she could go either way.

This is not over!

We have a real chance of moving the Commission to revisit this issue, with at least one Commissioner changing position. Whether or not that happens, the Livingston Democratic Party is running a candidate against one of the ring-leaders of this misguided policy. We should strongly support that candidate.

What you can do

If you are a resident of Livingston County, please directly contact the Commissioner from your District. Here is a link to the contact information for the Commissioners: And here is a link to the district map in case you are not sure which District you are in:
Whether or not you live in Livingston County, please sign our petition in support of restoring the prevailing wage in Livingston County.

Why is getting rid of the prevailing wage a terrible idea?

The prevailing wage is a long-standing policy with a proven track record across this country. It might seem that the county will save money by abolishing it, but you don’t get something for nothing. The floor set by the prevailing wage enables workers and contractors that choose to invest in skills development and higher quality production to compete with contractors who could otherwise undercut their business by paying lower wages and skimping on training in order to offer lower bids. If those more willing to invest in the workforce keep losing bids, the result will be a vicious circle in which all contractors feel constrained to cut back on wages and investment in training becomes falls as well. Less training means more accidents on the job site. It also means lower quality work. For the public, that means buildings and roads that are less safe.

Lower wages also mean that the local building trades and other workers who benefit from the floor set by the prevailing wage – and are also community members – have less income to spend locally. Let’s not forget that consumer purchasing power is the ultimate job creator: ask any business person how many jobs he or she will be creating if consumer demand for his or her products dries up.

From the county’s point of view, if incomes of local building trades workers and business owners fall, so will property tax values: If the tax base shrinks, then either rates must go up or services must be gut.

Last but certainly not least, undercutting wages high enough to keep working people in the middle class exacerbate income inequality in Livingston County. Income inequality in this country is already at levels we haven’t seen since the 1920s. It is far too high to be healthy for our democracy, because the increasing concentration of income and wealth is associated with concentrated political power as well. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis put it, “We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

The Mackinac Center is a big proponent of eliminating the prevailing wage in Michigan, and helps to coordinate the push on Republicans to adopt the plutocracy’s agenda. But if those who love democracy weigh in, we will win. The plutocracy has most of the money, by definition, but we have most of the votes! Let’s show them that in this country and this county the people rule!

Do we have evidence to back the claims we just made?

You bet! For key findings of academic studies that examine the impacts of ending the prevailing wage in other states, and suspending it at the state level in Michigan from 1994-97, see the three-page overview of the evidence developed by the Michigan building trades (PDF).