This week, we only had one meeting. It was a special meeting of the Board of Commissioners, called a leadership meeting, where we meet for a special purpose. The purpose of this meeting was to hear from our employees regarding contract negotiations.
Until this year, each of our unions had different end dates for their contracts. We would have a few end each year and be negotiated. This year, though, we arranged it so all contracts would end at the same time so we could negotiate similar conditions with each union. As has happened in the recent past, we have several conditions leading to reduced revenues: lower tax collections, reduced revenue sharing from the state, lower-than-expected interest earnings on investments, foreclosures, etc. All of these have lead to the need to work with the employees for concessions in contracts. In addition, the Board and management staff are looking at long-term solutions to prevent budget deficits. The exact terms of the contract negotiations are done at the bargaining table and I won’t list the conditions here. Similarly, the Commissioners have heard from the county management staff regarding what they want to ask for in negotiations but this is confidential and done in closed session.
The unions had requested an opportunity to meet with the Commissioners to express concerns and questions about the requests from management and about the process of negotiations. We heard from the United Auto Workers (UAW), Ingham County Employees Association, Nurses Association, Michigan Association of Police, and Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU). They raised very good questions and brought up issues that we as Commissioners had not known were problems. They are concerned with the combination of the short-term and long-term objectives in the same negotiations because both involved some concessions from the unions and both have value to them. They are also concerned about the process, especially with contracts having expired already. Several unions have gone beyond negotiation and to mediation, which is unusual in Ingham County. There were also concerns about the move from defined benefit to a hybrid defined contribution plan, about health benefit changes, and step freezes, and others. Ingham County has a health benefits coalition that usually recommends changes and has saved the county millions in the past, and this process is somewhat outside of that coalition process. Step freezes are seen as inequitable because those at the top step are not losing anything when those under the top step are. And so many other good issues that were raised. They said that the hybrid defined contribution plan is unfair because it locks in the rate without the ability to negotiate.
We heard the concerns, and our staff responded to some of them. Our staff pointed out the reductions in revenues and the need to spend less. They also talked about the need to solve the problem going forward.
We had MERS speak to us as well about the hybrid defined contribution plan. They agreed that the rate cannot change in negotiation and said that it is based on actuarial estimates. I can’t speak for others, but I was uncomfortable locking something in that cannot be changed in the future or bargained, especially if times get better and we can afford to provide more for our employees. I am open to the hybrid defined contribution plan, but the details that MERS laid out made me very uncomfortable. I was also uncomfortable with several other things that the unions raised.
The County Services committee, on which I serve, has scheduled a special committee meeting on January 31st to further discuss these issues. I hope we can have more detailed information about the cuts that our management is asking for and the details regarding the concerns that the unions raised. We as Commissioners cannot spend more than we take in and we need to provide structural stability, but we also need to be fair to our employees. We have some of the best employees in the world, and we need to treat them right. People want to be public servants, and we need to reward them…especially when they can make more in the private sector but want to help others. This will be a big issue that we need to resolve quickly in 2012.
Otherwise, our normal committee schedule will resume this week. I have County Services Committee, and the Law Enforcement and Judiciary Committees will meet as well. You can see the agendas online at www.ingham.org.
The campaign continues to go very well. I will have my campaign finance report filed by the end of the month with a strong showing. This week I increased my list of endorsements, which includes several neighborhood presidents and activists, current and former State Representatives, countywide elected officials, most of the county commissioners, City Councilmembers, Township Board members, labor, and many others. The information is all on my website and we will be announcing the specifics as the campaign continues. Seven more months until Primary Election day! If you are interested in volunteering on the campaign or want to contribute, please go to www.andyschor.com.