“It’s that simple,” Bing said in his recent budget address.
Bold action by Republican governors to rein in government spending and labor power by
curtailing collective-bargaining rights have been met with raucous, if ultimately unsuccessful, protests from union leaders and their allies in places including Wisconsin and Ohio.
But Bing’s move to extract new concessions from Detroit’s 12,000 municipal workers has been met with no such outpouring. “I don’t know that there is a whole lot to stop him,” said Roger Rice, a city mechanic for the past 37 years.
The absence of any large protest highlights the conundrum facing labor and its progressive allies as more states, cities and towns run by their putative Democratic allies are confronted with staggering debt and budget problems. For many of them, the most viable solution is to demand more from labor unions that are among their strongest political supporters.
Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, a progressive activist group, pointed out that there were major differences between political leaders seeking concessions and those seeking to weaken unions. Still, he added, “Democratic leaders shouldn’t be using the threat of laws put there by Republicans to intimidate workers.”
As much as they abhor the budgetary solutions offered by many Republican governors, union leaders are finding that the solutions offered by hard-pressed Democratic leaders are often similar in substance, if not in tone.
“Unions are simply making the best of a bad situation,” said Taylor E. Dark III, a professor at California State University at Los Angeles who studies the relationship between organized labor and Democratic politicians. “Public employee unions are aware that they need to accept some pain now, and they would rather control how that pain is inflicted, as opposed to the loss of control that occurs under Republican governance.”
In New York and California, Democratic governors have not attacked collective bargaining, but they have also demanded major concessions from workers to help close yawning budget deficits.
In Wisconsin and Ohio, new Republican governors have significantly curtailed or eliminated collective-bargaining rights for public employees, moves they said were made to give themselves as well as local leaders a freer hand to make badly needed cuts.
Michigan’s new governor, Rick Snyder (R), signed legislation last month empowering his appointed emergency financial managers to void municipal union contracts in distressed municipalities across the state.