Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 4, 2013

TC Mayor Estes may seek changes

By Brian McGillivary
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Mayor Michael Estes wants to explore wringing more concessions out of city workers through Michigan’s new right-to-work law.

A law the Republican-controlled Legislature passed and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed in December bars mandatory union fees under new labor agreements. It applies to contracts reached after March 27, which appears to exempt Traverse City’s pending four-year agreement with about 15 clerical and technical employees represented by Teamsters Local 214. The union’s contract expired June 20, 2012.

The requirement for all employees to pay fees for union representation is a standard clause in most collective bargaining agreements and is included in the one before they city commission, said City Manager Ben Bifoss. The commission will consider the contract when it meets today at 7 p.m.

“This is a new piece of information and what are the ramifications,” Estes said. “There may be none, but what if I can get additional benefits for the city?”

The city commission stays out of face-to-face bargaining, Estes said. Commissioners meet with Bifoss in closed session to set parameters of what they want to see in new contracts in terms of pay, pensions, benefits, and similar issues. But that meeting took place well before the Legislature decided to push through the controversial law in its lame duck session, so the topic was not covered.

Estes said he wants to know if the city can use the new law to gain more concessions from the union -- if it agrees to keep the fee requirement.

“I’m not against the union; I’m out to get the best contract for the city of Traverse City and its residents,” Estes said.

Bob Donick, business agent for Teamsters Local 214, could not be reached for comment. Ben Peek, the shop steward, declined comment.

The proposed contract is for four years, but longer-term contracts of eight and 10 years have drawn criticism from Republican lawmakers who called it an attempt to circumvent the right-to-work law.

Estes hedged when asked if he supported right-to-work.

“I never advocated for it, but I support and will follow the laws of the state of Michigan,” he said.

Commissioner Mike Gillman fully supported the right-to-work law, but he declined to discuss if the mandatory fee clause will affect his vote. He said he first wanted to discuss it with Bifoss.

Commission have two employee contract topics on tonight’s agenda, but one with workers with the parks department and department of public works will be withdrawn because workers rejected it. Bifoss said the fee clause was never discussed during negotiations with either group. He declined to discuss any other aspects of the contract.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.