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Michigan Unions Challenge Unconstitutional Election Law in Federal Court

PA 269, signed by Governor Snyder, violates free speech rights of union members in Michigan elections

DETROIT – Michigan labor unions filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court today challenging Public Act 269, a law signed by Governor Rick Snyder in 2015. The law, also known as Senate Bill 571, was passed late at night without a single committee hearing, and clearly violates the free speech rights of union members wishing to participate in Michigan elections.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include: the Michigan State AFL-CIO; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 58; the Utility Workers Union of America, Local 223; George Horuczi, an employee of DTE Energy, and a member and officer of UWUA Local 223; the Michigan State Utility Workers Council; and William D. Chadwick, Jr., an employee of Consumers Energy, and a member of UWUA Local 338.

“This law is unfair, unconstitutional, and downright un-American,” said Ron Bieber, President of the Michigan AFL-CIO. “It makes it easier for corporations and their super PACs to spend big money on our elections while silencing the voices of working people. We’re asking the court to do the right thing and protect the First Amendment rights of Michigan’s hardworking union members, so they can make their voices heard in Michigan’s elections.”

The legal action names Attorney General Bill Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson as defendants in their official capacities with the State of Michigan.

Unions assert that PA 269 discriminates against union members by allowing corporations and their trade associations to collect PAC contributions through payroll deduction, while prohibiting payroll deduction for union PAC contributions. The law violates the First Amendment rights of union members by selectively suppressing political speech and association, which is a clear violation of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. PA 269 also violates the Contract Clause, which protects existing collective bargaining agreements.

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The Michigan AFL-CIO is a federation of labor unions, and represents over 1 million active and retired union members across Michigan.

IBEW Local 58 is based in Detroit and represents 5,000 electricians in the construction, maintenance, broadcast and manufacturing industries.

UWUA Local 223 is headquartered in Detroit and represents 3,500 members employed by DTE Energy.

The Michigan State Utility Workers District Council is located in Charlotte, and represents 24 UWUA locals across Michigan.

Michigan AFL-CIO Endorses Candidates for Congress

State labor federation backs incumbent Democrats, supports Johnson, Clements, Driskell, Gilbert in competitive districts

LANSING – Today the Michigan AFL-CIO executive council endorsed the following candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives: Lon Johnson (MI-01), Dan Kildee (MI-05), Paul Clements (MI-06), Gretchen Driskell (MI-07), Melissa Gilbert (MI-08), Sandy Levin (MI-09), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), John Conyers (MI-13), and Brenda Lawrence (MI-14).

“Michigan needs members of Congress who know how to fight for working people,” said Ron Bieber, President of the Michigan AFL-CIO. “That’s why we’re proud to support these candidates. Because each one of them understands that the key to a strong economy is a strong middle class, where working people can earn good wages with strong benefits, and a secure retirement.”

Michigan’s 1st, 6th, 7th, and 8th congressional districts are expected to be among the most competitive races in the country this year.

“We need more leaders like Lon, Paul, Gretchen, and Melissa in Washington who will get up every day and fight to build an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy,” said Bieber. “The Michigan AFL-CIO and our affiliates are committed to working hard to win these tough races by recruiting thousands of volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls all over the state. By starting that work now and educating union households about what’s at stake in this election, we’re confident we can win this November.”

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The Michigan State AFL-CIO represents over one million active and retired union members across Michigan

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Dateline: Lansing, March 3, 2016

Auditor General Hits Snyder on Screw-Ups in UI “Robofraud” & Veterans Home

It’s not just Flint water that is getting screwed up by the Snyder Administration.

Two recent Auditor General reports have documented widespread problems in how decisions of the Governor and his appointees have hurt laid off workers and veterans residing in the state’s Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

Robofraud – UIA Computers Run Amok

A February performance audit report of the Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) showed a consistent pattern of the agency falsely accusing laid off workers of fraud in applying for UI benefits. The UIA used a computer to make decisions about fraud accusations without any human oversight. The computer sent messages to obscure electronic message sites, often 6 months or longer after an individual had returned to work. When the individuals didn’t respond, the computer found them guilty of fraud and assessed 400% penalties plus 12% interest.

Most people found guilty of fraud only found out about the accusation when their tax refunds were seized or their wages garnished. When these false accusations were challenged in the UI appeal system, the Auditor General found that the guilty verdicts for misrepresentation were upheld on appeal only 8% of the time!

That means that innocent jobless workers were falsely convicted of fraud 92% of the time by a computer!

This gross miscarriage of justice was the subject of a recent public hearing on HB 4982, legislation sponsored by Representative Roger Victory, R-Georgetown Township. Victory’s bill would require the UIA to send second notifications of UI benefit redeterminations to laid off workers by certified mail. The bill also requires human review of computer “Robofraud” accusations to make sure that the individual willfully and intentionally violated the law before pursuing an accusation or imposing fines.

Several victims of “Robofraud” testified at a February 18th hearing on HB 4982 before the House Oversight and Ethics committee.

David Vela told the committee how he received UI benefits when he was laid off from work in 2009. When his employer called him back to work in 2010, he thought he was through with the UIA. He moved in 2011 but didn’t notify the UIA since his claim was long since settled. In 2012 the UIA computer decided his claim might be fraudulent and sent a notice to David at the agency’s Michigan Web Account Manager (MIWAM) page, an internal notification system that people can use to check on their UI claim while drawing benefits. David had no reason to monitor the MIWAM account, since he had been back to work for more than a year.

When he didn’t respond, the computer decided that David committed fraud and demanded restitution, a fine and interest totaling more than $25,000. The first time David even knew that the UIA was accusing him of fraud was when his wages were garnished to pay his fraud “penalty.” All told, David had more than $4,800 garnished from his wages and tax returns and had to work 6-7 days a week for 12 hours a day to pay his bills.

David received help from his union, employer and the University of Michigan Law School Unemployment Insurance Clinic in trying to fight this unjust fraud accusation. Eventually, an administrative law judge ruled in David’s favor and he got his money back. After harassing David for years, the UIA didn’t even bother to show up for his hearing.

David’s experience is similar to that of thousands of other laid off workers who have been screwed over by the “Robofraud” system and were assessed huge penalties and harassing collection efforts.

House action on HB 4982 is expected later this month. UI advocates and the state AFL-CIO are working with the bill sponsor and committee members to strengthen the bill.

Privatized Grand Rapids Veterans Home Cited for Short Staffing, Falsifying Records

The state Auditor General has issued a report criticizing the state owned Grand Rapids Home for Veterans for a variety of deficiencies in treatment of Michigan veterans residing in the home.
After the audit was made public, Jeff Barnes, Governor Snyder’s appointed director of the Michigan Veteran Affairs Agency, resigned his position. Barnes had previously served as Snyder’s campaign manager.

The Snyder administration privatized the staffing of the home several years ago, replacing more than 150 state workers with a contractual agreement with J2S, a private company. The contract was supposed to provide quality work at a savings of $4 million, but has been an abysmal failure.

The February performance audit report outlined a number of “material conditions” which could “impair the ability of management to operate a program in an effective and efficient manner.” Sub-standard conditions identified in the audit include:

  • 43% of resident location checks and 33% of fall alarm checks did not occur, although records submitted by the home falsely indicated that the checks occurred 100% and 96% of the time.
  • The contractor did not meet minimum staffing requirements 81% of the time, with shortages of staff as high as 22 people on a given day.
  • The privatized contractor did not develop, execute and monitor comprehensive care plans, failing to meet timely requirements 25-59% of the time.
  • The contractor did not establish adequate control over pharmaceutical insurance billing, running the risk of losing eligible insurance reimbursements of $883,700.
  • The contractor did not track or properly investigate resident complaints, including allegations of abuse and neglect.

A unique joint meeting of four separate legislative committees are holding a public hearing to discuss the audit. Committees taking part in the hearing include House Oversight and Ethics, House Military and Veterans Affairs, Senate Oversight and Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Homeland Security.

Auditor’s Report on Grand Rapids Vets Home Shows Privatization Doesn’t Work, Hurts Vets

LANSING – The Michigan AFL-CIO issued the following statement today on the Auditor General’s report on the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

“The tragic lesson from this failed experiment is that privatization simply doesn’t work,” said Ron Bieber, President of the Michigan AFL-CIO. “Rep. Holly Hughes said this report is ‘disturbing,’ and she’s right. But if Rep. Hughes wants to find someone to blame, she should look in the mirror. It is now painfully clear that the 2011 budget passed by Lansing Republicans, which included the privatization of the Home for Veterans, was a terrible mistake.

“According to the auditor’s report, the facility was chronically understaffed, employees routinely failed to respond to alarm checks, and the for-profit management company failed to investigate complaints of abuse and neglect. That’s outrageous and unacceptable.

“No one should have to endure such horrible living conditions, especially not our military veterans. The state needs to stop shortchanging these brave men and women, and take immediate action by terminating its contract with J2S, which has proven to be totally inadequate and incompetent. Our veterans deserve nothing less.”

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