Contract with little financial benefit that avoids right-to-work law could cost university
Wayne State University helped unions dodge Michigan's right-to-work law without getting much in return for its students or taxpayers.
That's the initial analysis from the chairman of the House panel that recommends how much funding each university should get from the state.
“I didn't see anything that looked like real savings,” Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, told Capitol Confidential after he'd reviewed the new WSU contract. “I think the only way they can claim savings will be by applying Washington, D.C., math. In other words, they’d have to make a lot of unwarranted assumptions and things like that.”
Agreement on an eight-year contract between WSU and the American Association of University Professors—American Federation of Teachers was reached in February.
Under Michigan’s new right-to-work law, requiring an employee to contribute financially to a union is prohibited. However, because the WSU contract was approved before right-to-work went into effect on March 28, the new law does not apply. As a result, university faculty members will be forced to pay union dues or fees until 2021.
WSU President Allan Gilmour has said the union's desire to evade the law was a factor in the bargaining process. But Gilmour claimed the university used the issue to its advantage and got a better deal as a result.
Neither Gilmour nor other WSU officials have detailed what savings the university got in return for agreeing to the long-term contract. The contract is now available for lawmakers and the public to read. Legislative staffers are studying it. Rep. Pscholka, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education, said he has looked it over.
“Someone said something about there being health care savings in the contract,” Rep. Pscholka said. “What I saw was $5 copays. That makes me wonder what they've been paying up to now . . . zero copays?"
A month ago, the amount of state dollars potentially at stake for WSU would have been its share of dollars from a $100 million performance fund. The fund was created as an incentive for universities to practice fiscal responsibility. The goal was to keep costs and tuition levels down.
Contracts that allow labor to circumvent right-to-work with little financial benefit to the public are counted heavily against a university's performance evaluation. Rep. Pscholka has said that WSU should have to show at least 10 percent savings to keep the university eligible for performance funding.
Now there could be even more at stake for WSU. A few weeks ago, Rep. Pscholka upped the ante. He is suggesting reducing a university's overall state appropriation by 15 percent if it agreed to a contract restricting workers from excercising an opt-out from paying union dues or fees without getting adequate savings in return.
It appears that chances are good that the full House could go along with Rep. Pscholka’s plan. Whether the Snyder administration and the Senate agree is another matter. In the past two budget years, the House has been more willing to hold the feet of universities to the fire on cost-cutting than Gov. Snyder and the Senators have been.
WSU officials did not respond to a request for comment.