Using the Emergency Manager Law as a cudgel to bash unions into submission


Last month, I wrote about how the Northville School District was using the threat of an Emergency Manager to strong arm concessions from teachers in their contract negotiations.

  • Snyder’s budget strips away money from the schools.
  • The schools are forced into a bankruptcy situation.
  • They turn to their employees and teachers for drastic concessions (a nearly 10% pay cut and no raises for two years in this case.)
  • Because teachers have already given up much in recent years, they resist further cuts.
  • The school district threatens the union with an Emergency Manager, an individual that has the power to come in and unilaterally wipe away their contracts.

This week, Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Joe Harris came right out and declared that he was using the new law kneecap unions.

Although Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Joseph Harris didn’t have to use one of the most controversial powers given to him by the much-debated Public Act 4, the emergency manager law, he said in a speech this week that without the law the city would not have reached the agreement he wanted with the city’s police and fire unions.

He was referring to an aspect of the new law that lets an emergency manager change or scrap union contracts.

Harris spoke to a meeting of the St. Joseph/Benton Harbor Rotary Club at the Priscilla U. Byrns Heritage Center in St. Joseph Monday afternoon, outlining the changes Benton Harbor has seen since Harris was appointed in April 2010.


He said that some of the things he was able to do couldn’t have been done without Public Act 4, which increases the powers of emergency managers for financially troubled municipalities or school districts.


Harris said he didn’t have to use the provision in the law that allows him to change or terminate collective bargaining agreements to reach those concessions, but that simply having the power allowed him to bargain for the changes he wanted.

I honestly don’t know if I should be shocked or relieved that they are being so brazen and bald-faced about it. At least I know it’s not black helicopter/tinfoil hat stuff when I make claims that they are trying to destroy the unions. They are happy, hell giddy, to tell us that themselves.

In other news, Rick Snyder claims the new Emergency Manager law was necessary because of all the early warning failsafes that are in it.

Later in the day, during a meeting with The Herald-Palladium editorial board, Gov. Rick Snyder said the previous emergency financial manager law “was not adequate for what needed to be done.”

While critics look only at the takeover part of the law, the new law is intended to head off financial emergencies through “early warning systems,” Snyder said.

Funny that they couldn’t have just put the early warning system in place without disenfranchising local voters.

Speaking of disenfranchisement, earlier that day at the Michigan Local Government Management Association annual meeting, two Benton Harbor City Commissioners were not allowed in, despite having been sent invitations.

Benton Harbor is one of four entities that now has an emergency financial manager, Joseph Harris, who spoke later in the morning. Harris’ reforms have generated a lot of heat and a lot of opposition from some now powerless Benton Harbor city commissioners, two of whom – Dennis Knowles and Juanita Henry – were turned away from attending Thursday’s session.

But, hey, at least Joe Harris did something nice – he gave Whirlpool a nice award for their contributions to the city. Yippee.