News Story

Michigan State University Administering Program On How To Unionize Employees

Building Trades Academy curriculum was designed by AFL-CIO

Michigan State University is administering a program called the Building Trades Academy that teaches techniques aimed at unionizing employees. In reaction, state lawmakers are threatening to make cuts to MSU’s appropriations unless the university agrees to make changes.

Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the higher education budget, said MSU’s administration of such a program is not an acceptable use of state appropriation dollars.

Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton

“Michigan State University, a public university, has taken over the duties of the National Labor College; a failed private entity previously run by the AFL-CIO,” Sen. Schuitmaker said. “The ‘Building Trades Academy’ in partnership with Michigan State University, and run by MSU’s School of Human Resources and Labor Relations, offers courses that are geared toward, and designed for ‘building trades union officers, agents and experienced organizers.’ ”

Previously, the AFL-CIO ran the program. Now it is administered by MSU.

“Public universities should be in the business of educating students, not targeting Michigan job providers — a stated goal of one of these courses — for the purpose of meddling with the employer/employee relationship,” Sen. Schuitmaker added. “Most of Michigan's non-union employers have excellent relationships with their employees. The motivation behind this curriculum is to disrupt that relationship for the purpose of growing union coffers.”

Sen. Schuitmaker said she asked if she could attend the classes and was told that she could not. The classes are not open to the public and not available to the general undergraduate or graduate student body. Only those who can show proof of union membership are allowed to attend.

“In May of 2013 the MSU school of Human Resources and Labor Relations partnered to administer the Building Trades Academy,” Jason Cody, a spokesman for MSU told Capitol Confidential. “The academy is set up to provide useful information for union staff and leadership. They are four to five day seminars held off-site. Those who attend do not pay tuition to the university; their fees are paid by the Building Trades Union.”

“The academy does not advocate unionization,” Cody continued. “That’s not its goal.”

Capitol Confidential asked if the classes teach about “salting,” which is a labor union tactic involving the act of getting a job at a specific workplace with the intent of organizing a union.

“None of the current curriculum does,” Cody said.

Capitol Confidential pointed out that the curriculum was recently changed and asked if the previous curriculum included “salting.”

Cody said he did not have that information.

In fact, the previous curriculum did include “salting.” It has been removed from the MSU website, but Capitol Confidential obtained the previous curriculum, a portion of the course is described as instructing: “To make informed judgments on organizing and collective bargaining strategy – and to determine when legal counsel is required in a particular situation.” Under this section it also sates: “Topics that will be covered include paths to recognition, including salting, trigger agreements and other motivations, bargaining, including pre-hire and project agreements, multi-employer units and corporate change, traditional and nontraditional pressures, from strikes to corporate campaigns and preventive maintenance and protective planning.”

The curriculum for one class specifically says, "This course ... offers concrete strategies aimed at promoting organizing throughout the industry."

In an open letter to MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon, the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan (ABC), a statewide construction group, argued that the program lacks academic merit and that it was created by the building trades division of the AFL-CIO.

“Such activities lack legitimacy when performed by an academic institution,” said ABC-Michigan President Chris Fisher. “Would the university support a similar program geared toward union busting? Neither activity should be tolerated by the university staff, the Board of Trustees or the state legislature, which controls a significant portion of MSU’s budget.

“There may be a place for union organizing but it is through the union halls, not the halls of a public land-grant university,” Fisher continued. “Michigan taxpayers, both individual and business, need to be aware how their tax dollars are being spent.”

Because of MSU’s activity with the Building Trades Academy, the Senate version of the higher education budget, Senate Bill 768, currently includes a $500,000 cut in MSU’s appropriations and seems to suggest that the university could lose $500,000 each time it holds the seminars going forward.

The Senate Fiscal Agency explained it this way in its analysis of Senate Bill 768:

Prohibited Instruction Activity. The Senate reduced funding for MSU based on Section 271A [of the bill] which states intent that a public university shall not participate in any instructional activity that encourages or discourages union organizing of employees and provides for a $500,000 penalty for each occurrence.

Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the higher education budget, said the situation is in flux while talks take place between the legislative leaders and MSU officials.

“We will be going into a conference committee (over Senate bill 768) and this is definitely something we’re taking a good hard look at,” Rep. Pscholka said. “We are talking to Michigan State University. One possibility is a suspension of enrollment until changes are made to the program. We’re looking forward to working with the Senate on a final resolution.”

Sen. Schuitmaker said that the course description (or curriculum) was changed after she discovered that MSU was administering the program. However, she argues that even the newly changed description is troubling; specifically she points to the following:

Organizational and Membership Development in the Construction Industry I: 

“This course offers… ways of promoting organizing throughout the industry [and]… concentrating on issues related to workforce organizing-identifying, contacting, and communicating directly with unrepresented workers.”

In 2010, Wayne State University had documents promoting unionization and organizing on its website. Much of the material was removed after a Capitol Confidential exposé.


See also:

Wayne State Removes Questionable Website After Mackinac Center FOIA Request

Wayne State's 'Wholly Owned Subsidiary' of Big Labor

Wayne State Shuts Down Website to Investigate Campaign Finance Concerns Raised by FOIA Debate

Wayne State Puts Labor Center Website Back Up, Controversial Material Removed