March 9, 2011 / 9:02 PM / 8 years ago

Michigan Senate approves breaking school labor deals

DETROIT (Reuters) - The Michigan Senate approved on Wednesday a proposal from Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to give state-appointed emergency managers broad authority to break labor deals to turn around failing schools and cities.

The state’s largest school district of Detroit has been under emergency management for two years.

Senators voted 26-12 to approve an amended version of the proposal. It now must return to the state House for a vote. If representatives agree with the changes, the bill can be forwarded to the governor for his signature.

Republican leaders in the Michigan House tentatively plan to take the bill up next week, said Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger said.

The bill would allow a governor-appointed emergency manager to modify or terminate collective bargaining agreements. With the governor’s approval, the emergency manager also could dissolve a city government or recommend consolidation.

Hundreds of pro-union demonstrators had jammed the Michigan Capitol in Lansing on Tuesday from the floor of the rotunda to the floors above to oppose the measures in a scene reminiscent of weeks of protests at the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison.

In Wisconsin, protesters occupied the Capitol Building in Madison for weeks to protest new Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposals to limit public sector union powers.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer said the changes would add to the pressure on Michigan’s communities and school districts and served as an attack on public sector unions similar to those in Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin’s Governor Walker may be entering the front door on undoing workers’ rights, but make no mistake you all are sneaking in the back door to do the same thing with this vote,” Whitmer said in the final discussion for the Senate vote.

With Michigan cities and school districts struggling from the severe recession and potential state funding cuts, the bill expands the power for the state to name emergency overseers and gives them powers over academics as well as finances.

In the case of school districts, the emergency manager would have the ability to close schools and buildings.

The state’s biggest school district, the Detroit Public Schools, was put under the emergency financial management of by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm two years ago. It is the only district in the state now under emergency management.

However, some 40 school districts last year were projected to be in deficit spending last year, a number that could more than triple this year, according to state lawmakers.

Several Michigan cities have been under emergency financial managers at some point including Pontiac, Highland Park, Hamtramck and Benton Harbor.

“Nobody wants to be in this position,” said Republican Sen. John Proos, whose district includes Benton Harbor.

The changes would perhaps provide a “greater early warning system” to communities and school districts, he said.

Writing by David Bailey and Greg McCunee

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