Washtenaw County Special Ed Millage

At the Huron Valley Area Labor Federation’s meeting on February 2 2016, delegates voted unanimously to support an increase in the millage rate for special education in Washtenaw County on the May 2016 ballot. You can find out more about the millage increase at this site.

The Huron Valley Area Labor Federation (HVALF) delegates believe that this special education millage is good for working people and for our communities for a number of reasons:

  • Investment in special education saves our community money in the long run by better preparing students with special needs for jobs and careers that will enable them to support themselves with dignity.
  • The proposed increase of 1.5 mils will generate about $22 million for special education. This will free up $22 million in County school districts’ general operating funds that must currently go to federally mandated special education, enabling us to reallocate these funds to improved programming for ALL public school students.
  • The special education millage has not increased in 11 years, and so, has not kept pace with increased special education costs that we must cover under federal law.
  • 100% of the money raised through this millage increase will go to Washtenaw County public schools.
  • The cost to each household is modest, compared with the scale of the benefits summarized above: for a homeowner with a house valued at $200,000, this proposal would increase taxes by $150/year or $12.50 per month.

Thank you for considering our endorsement as part of your process for deciding how you will vote on Tuesday May 3rd. Not many people vote in the May primary elections, so every vote counts more than usual. If you have questions about this millage, you can get answers by emailing huronvalleyclc@gmail.com . A delegate who understands these issues will respond.

Formation of the HVALF

Big news for our movement: On April 1, 2016, the Huron Valley Central Labor Council (HVCLC), AFL-CIO, officially became the Huron Valley Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.

Our mission and goal remain the same: Bringing together local union leaders to build a labor movement that improves the lives of all working families. We work to achieve our mission by supporting struggles for worker rights and living wages in the workplace, and by changing the balance of political power to achieve racial and social justice in our region.

But this is much more than a name change. The creation of our new Area Labor Federation coincides with four important developments.

First, the HVCLC brought together delegates from local unions whose members lived or worked in two counties: Washtenaw and Livingston. The new, expanded HVALF adds Jackson and Livingston counties to create a four-county federation. We will be drafting a new constitution to reflect this and other changes in the structure of the HVALF this summer, and elections for officers under this new constitution will take place in January 2017.

Second, the HVCLC relied entirely on volunteers who were already leaders in their local unions and stepped up to put time and energy into movement-level work as well. Volunteers will remain the heart and soul of the HVALF, but our efforts will now be reinforced by the work of a full-time Field Coordinator. Adding staff support will enable us to deepen our member volunteer base, develop more young leaders, forge stronger links with community allies, launch new campaigns, and strengthen our political work.

Third, because of its new structure, the HVALF is eligible for Solidarity Grants from the AFL-CIO, which will enable us to bring staff support online in the very near future.

Finally, the HVALF has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with two neighboring Central Labor Councils. Under this MOU, the Greater Lansing CLC and the Monroe-Lenawee CLC provide financial support for our Field Coordinator in the form of monthly per capita contributions, beginning on April 1, 2016. The MOU has two important implications: first, it enables us to maintain our Field Coordinator position after our Solidarity Grant money runs out; and second, it means that our Field Coordinator will help to develop programs and campaigns to build labor movement power across a nine-county region: the four counties of the HVALF plus Monroe, Lenawee, Eaton, Ingham and Clinton counties.
Taken together, the changes associated with the formation of the Huron Valley Area Labor Federation promise a more powerful regional labor movement with deeper roots in our communities and greater coordination and mutual learning across a nine-county area. It’s a promise we intend to keep.

Huron Valley Central Labor Council Endorsements

HVCLC Supports WISD Special Education Millage Proposal

At our February 2nd, 2016 Delegates meeting, the HVCLC unanimously endorsed the proposal for a millage increase of 1.5 mills for special needs students in Washtenaw County. The WISD has put a link on its web page explaining what the millage increase would mean for our county’s school boards, for our students, and for our taxes. Check it out!

March 1st 2016 HVCLC Endorsements

On March 1st, 2016, the Huron Valley Central Labor Council (HVCLC) decided to recommend to the Michigan AFL-CIO that it endorse the following federal and state candidates:

12th Congressional District: Debbie Dingell
7th Congressional District: Gretchen Driskell

52nd District of MI State House: Barb Fuller
53rd District of MI State House: Yousef Rabhi
55th District of MI State House: Adam Zemke

We will be doing a second set of interviews for state positions not mentioned here, as well as local government positions, in mid-May.

The PROCESS by which we came to these recommendations was as follows:

1. We invited candidates interested in seeking our recommendation to fill out an on-line questionnaire.  (Candidates’ written answers to these questionnaires are available to all members of HVCLC affiliates upon request.  Contact HVCLC President Ian Robinson at e.ian.robinson@gmail.com to make such a request.)

2. The HVCLC’s Committee on Political Education (COPE) scheduled follow-up interviews with each candidate who filled out our questionnaire.

3. Based on their answers to our questionnaire, and other information gathered our interviews and through our knowledge of candidates’ track records, the COPE then made its recommendations to the HVCLC at its March 1st monthly Delegates’ meeting.

The NEXT STEPS in this process are:

1. Because these are national and state level candidates, the HVCLC does not endorse; rather, we make recommendations to the Michigan AFL-CIO about which candidates it should endorse.

2. HVCLC President Ian Robinson and COPE Director Steve Gulick will be making these recommendations to the MI AFL-CIO at its General Board meeting on Tuesday, March 15th, in Lansing.

BEYOND THIS ROUND OF RECOMMENDATIONS, the HVCLC will follow a parallel process — on-line questionnaires, interviews, COPE recommendations and HVCLC discussion and votes on those recommendations — for candidates in local (i.e., city, municipality and county government, school board, etc) races no later than our June 7th delegates meeting.

In these local races, the HVCLC’s endorsements are final (as distinct from recommendations to the Michigan AFL-CIO re. who it should endorse).  Stay tuned!

In solidarity,

Ian Robinson
President, HVCLC

Phone Bank for Flint Sunday 2-28

The HVCLC is coordinating a phone bank to call Flint residents who belong to the community organization, Flint Rising. We’ll be helping to organize Flint residents in order to make sure that the dictatorial emergency manager and poisoning of Flint never happens again. Please join us!

Where: IBEW 252 Hall, 7920 Jackson Road, Ann Arbor, MI
When: Sunday 2-28-16, 2 – 5 PM

RSVP to Ian Robinson or Moe Fitzsimmons

Community Meeting in Flint, March 5

Flint Rising/Michigan Faith in Action is holding a community meeting in Flint on March 5th:

WHERE: Quinn Chapel AME, 2101 Lippincott Blvd. , Flint MI
WHEN: Sat. March 5, 4:00 PM
WHAT: A public meeting to which the Governor and State Senators and others will be invited.The community wants national and state decision-makers to hear the water crisis experiences of vulnerable households in Flint and the community’s three main demands:

  • Repay residents for bills paid for poisoned water,
  • replace all underground lead pipes,
  • and provide door-to-door free health screenings and effective treatment through mobile health clinics to all exposed to lead.

Contact Peggy Kahn (pegkahn@umflint.edu) for more details.

HVCLC condemns Republican assault on MI Teachers Rights

This evening, February 2, 2016, I’m proud to report that the Delegates of the Huron Valley Central Labor Council unanimously endorsed the following resolution:

We are outraged by the proposed Michigan Republican legislation (S.B. 713 and 714) attacking teachers and their unions. Once again Michigan Republican Legislators and Governor Snyder are legislatively attacking citizens’ right to free speech, freedom of association, and collective action.

We pledge our full support to the MEA and AFT-Michigan in defending their members and their unions in whatever ways the MEA and AFT-Michigan ask us, up to and including nonviolent civil disobedience. We believe now is the time we must all stand together to stop these fascist attacks on the democratic rights of Michigan citizens.

-Ian Robinson, President, HVCLC

Progress on County Mental Health Vocational Services

On Wednesday, January 20, 2016, the labor members of the Labor Management Partnership (LMP) — Cheryl Jones (President, AFSCME Local 2733), Nancy Heine (President, AFSCME Local 3052), Winston Johnson (AFSCME Council 25 Rep for Washtenaw County), Bob King (UAW President, Ret’d) and Ian Robinson (HVCLC President) — came to an agreement with the Administration’s team on a set of recommendations which, if adopted by the Commission, will ensure that county employees (most of whom are union members) will continue to provide mental-health related vocational services in Washtenaw County. By keeping the provision of these services in the hands of county employees, we are convinced that the quality of service consumers receive will be much higher than it would under contracting out scenarios.

Our joint proposal received strong support from a majority of Commissioners at their January 20th meeting. Several noted that the creative cost savings that the LMP found were possible only because organized labor was an important part of the process. Since it was the Commissioners who mandated the formation of the LMP in the late summer, this outcome was a vindication of their hope that such a solution could be found if the policy process took the time and made room to listen to county employees and their elected union representatives.

It was moving to hear the parents testify, during the public comment period, about the terrific work that county employees do and how much it means to the families of the consumers. And to hear county mental health employees testify about why they do this work. After public comments were completed, the vocational program compromise proposal was the first thing on the agenda. Cheryl Jones and Trish Cortes (CMH Director, from the Administration half of the LMP) stood together and presented our joint proposal to the Commissioners. After we left the chamber, many members from Cheryl’s and Nancy’s locals, who had attended in large numbers, came expressed their gratitude to Cheryl and Nancy.

Going into discussions earlier that day, it wasn’t at all clear that a compromise proposal would be endorsed by both teams on the LMP. The Admin group had already submitted a recommendation that would have contracted out about 3/4 of all vocational services jobs. Three things were critical to the turnaround:

  • First, the labor team came up with a really solid compromise proposal, involving real sacrifices on the part of county mental health employees, shared sacrifices from non-union employees, more efficient use of transportation resources and a number of other cost-saving innovations. We also made it clear that contracting out the vocational services work would violate two collective agreements, that grievances had already been filed, and that if AFSCME won that grievance, the County would face a liability much larger than the savings expected from contracting out. The President of AFSCME Council 25, Al Garrett, underscored the seriousness of this concern by asking the Arbitrator to expedite the hearing date on these grievances and assigning Winston Johnson to be part of the LMP.
  • Second, we met with all but two of the Commissioners and persuaded a majority that our alternative proposal was preferable to the Administration’s original recommendation. Yousef Rabhi, Kent Martinez Kratz, Andy LaBarre, and Conan Smith were all very helpful in the process, and Ronnie Peterson was with us 100% throughout. We had been keeping Commissioners informed but with the fast-evolving nature of the proposal, a final round of meetings in the last few days secured their support for something very close to the final version of the compromise proposal. In that final round of discussions, Commissioners Felicia Brabec and Ruth Ann Jamnick also contributed some excellent ideas.
  • Third, the Administration representatives on the LMP were deeply committed to providing the best quality mental health care and services for Washtenaw County that we can afford. They also agreed that service quality would be highest if the work continued to be done by county employees who were paid above poverty wages and had long-term relationships with patients. So we shared two vitally important pieces of common ground. Also critical, the Admin team proved open to compromise once they were satisfied that we could find the money needed for 2016, and had a plausible path to sustainability beyond that. Finally, we made it our practice to work with the Administration team’s numbers – after subjecting them to careful scrutiny – so that also helped to convince them that the 2016 and 2017 savings we had found were real and accurate.

We’re not out of the woods yet. The Commissioners have ostponed a vote on the joint proposal till their next meeting, on Wednesday, February 3rd. They did that because some important actors, including the Board of our County Mental Health agency, did not know the details of the compromise agreement, which was finalized only minutes before the County Commission meeting began. Until the Commissioners’ votes have been cast and counted, there is always the possibility of some kind of reversal, though we do not consider this likely.

When the joint proposal is approved, we’ll still face some big challenges. Given the constant state cuts to mental health funding under the Republicans, we’re also going to need to build broad voter support for a millage increase here in Washtenaw County in 2017. Without additional revenues, vocational services and other aspects of the county’s mental health system will erode, and they have already suffered major cuts since 2008. We’ll have to put together a broad, county-level coalition to ensure that such a millage succeeds.

Beyond our county, an even larger threat to the quality of mental health care in Washtenaw County looms. An effort is under way to convince Governor Snyder and the Republican legislature that all county mental health services should be privatized to for-profit HMOs (see link below). If that plan succeeds, the progress we have made on vocational services – and beyond that, the entire public mental health care system — will be undermined. So we’ve got to do our part to form and support a political coalition that will stop this privatization initiative. That’s a state-wide task.

All this means that we’ve got our work cut out for us in the next couple of years. But we made real strides on January 20th and in the four month process leading up to that success. We will build on these successes going forward.