An Open Letter to Virg Bernero

What are your priorities?

(Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series examining the stances on labor and related issues of Virgil Bernero and Rick Snyder, the Democratic and Republican nominees, respectively, for governor.)

The Hon.Virgil Bernero
Virg Bernero for Michigan
P.O. Box 10067
Lansing, MI 48901

Aug. 12, 2010

Dear Mayor Bernero,

Congratulations on your nomination as the Democratic candidate for governor. In preparation for the upcoming campaign, I looked through the policy statements on your website. Naturally many of your positions have engendered questions. I would be interested in further elaboration on a few things.

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On your website you claim that "Michigan is in crisis today. Years of policies hostile to economic diversification, hostile to union labor, and hostile to middle class growth have taken their toll on the state we love." I'll grant you that Michigan is in a crisis, and that state policies have failed to foster economic diversification and middle-class growth. But in what way has the Granholm administration been hostile towards organized labor?

You boast that "Lansing currently leads the state in GDP." Lansing also happens to be the state capital, home to much of the state government's workforce, and it is quite well documented that government employees have fared better than private sector workers during the current recession. Can you tell us why we should conclude that Lansing's relative prosperity is due to your leadership, and not a matter of happenstance?

You also reference something specific you did as Lansing mayor: "Over the last two years in Lansing, there has been $188 million worth of construction projects. $187 million of that has been project labor agreements (PLA), and it has put over 400 union members to work." It is interesting to note that you pride yourself specifically on the creation of union jobs, but feel no need to specify if your use of PLAs created jobs for Michigan workers. What are your priorities? Are we to infer that you would rather hire union construction workers from out of state over non-union workers from Michigan? Is there any reason to believe that fewer workers — union or nonunion, residents or nonresidents — would have been hired in the absence of PLAs?

Many of your proposals for education, in particular your plans for all-day kindergarten, "investment" in  early education, and classroom size limits, are of the sort that are likely to result in increased spending by the state and school districts. How would you fund these increased expenditures without increasing taxes? Would you be willing to call for offsetting concessions by unionized public school employees to pay for these improvements?

You have been an "outspoken proponent" of federalized health care program. The constitutionality of this program has been called into question in numerous lawsuits. Furthermore, on the night you won the Democratic nomination for governor, voters in Missouri overwhelmingly (71 percent) approved a ballot proposal that purported to override the new federal requirement that all individuals buy health insurance. There is no reason to believe that federalized health care is much more popular in Michigan. Will you continue to be an outspoken proponent of the health care law? Are there any revisions you would like to see made to the federal health care plan? If that law were repealed would you propose a Michigan version?

And now a few more general questions: Arguably the most powerful single interest group in the state has been government employee unions. It is unlikely that the state's long-term budget problems will be resolved without provoking a confrontation with these unions. Local governments are in similar position vis-à-vis government unions. How will you deal with their demands? Are you open to changing the binding arbitration process that is used to resolve contract disputes between local governments and police and firefighter unions? Would you review the highly irregular process by which the proprietors of home-based child care have been unionized?

Finally, when a state suffers prolonged economic malaise as Michigan has, it is only natural that the current leadership would come under scrutiny and that voters would prefer to see a "clean break" from past policies. Would a Bernero administration be markedly different from that of Jennifer Granholm? If so, how?

I would be very interested in hearing your responses, and would be willing to post your responses on both the Mackinac Center and Detroit News "Watercooler" blogs, where I am a regular contributor, if and when I receive your reply.



Paul Kersey
Director of Labor Policy
Mackinac Center for Public Policy


Paul Kersey is director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.