Bill would force MSU to change course that teaches union workers how to meddle in business affairs
Offering instruction on how to meddle with the relationship between employers and employers is out-of-bounds for public universities. That's the message lawmakers have placed in legislation, which is on the verge of being passed by the Michigan Legislature.
"The classrooms of public universities should not be sites where union officials plan efforts to infiltrate private companies," said Chris Fisher, president and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan. "It's not an appropriate use of taxpayer funds."
The issue arose in the spring when it came to light that Michigan State University was administering an off-campus program that, among other things, taught various techniques for unionizing employees. The program was called the Building and Trades Academy and had previously been operated by the AFL-CIO.
Language in Senate Bill 768 states the following: “It is the intent of the Legislature that a public university that receives funds under section 236 shall not knowingly and directly use any portion of those funds to offer any instructional activity that targets specific companies or specific groups of companies for unionization or decertification of a union.”
Senate Bill 768 is the Higher Education budget for the upcoming 2014-2015 fiscal year. The bill in its current form was reported out of conference committee on June 5. That means it is a virtual certainty that the budget, including the language aimed at prohibiting unionization classes, will be passed and sent to Gov. Rick Snyder.
There had been talk about MSU possibly losing some of the appropriations it gets from the state as a result of it operating the Building and Trades Academy. However, the Legislature did not go that far and instead settled for inserting language that outlines what can and cannot be taught. Meanwhile, the program apparently will continue at MSU, but its curriculum will not include the unionization techniques.
"I continue to have reservations about the appropriateness of this program being taught at a taxpayer funded institution," Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, chair of the Senate Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, said. "However, after numerous conversations with the university, I am willing to give them the opportunity to demonstrate whether or not this program has educational value. I look forward to an ongoing dialogue with the university to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly."
Fisher said his organization will continue to monitor the situation at MSU and other colleges and universities in Michigan.
"We will be keeping an eye out for that (universities teaching unionization methods) and would consider all of our options, including filing a lawsuit," Fisher said.
MSU officials did not respond to a request for comment.