Some members of Michigan State University’s largest labor union
are attempting to recall all 13 members of the union’s executive board.
The effort is the latest move in an ongoing dispute between some
members of the Administrative Professionals Association, which represents more
than 1,800 MSU employees, and the union’s chairman and executive board.
Union members who are leading the recall effort call themselves
the APA Watch Group, and say that the union leadership routinely denies
rank-and-file members access to financial data and information about the board’s
The group has filed two complaints with the Michigan Education
Association, of which the APA is an affiliate. One complaint challenged the
March 2007 executive board election on several counts, among them that the
ballot itself was confusing and favored incumbent candidates. Challengers also
claimed that the outcome was influenced by an e-mail sent from APA Chairman Leo
Sell to some APA members which suggested that electing newcomers over incumbents
would weaken the union.
The second complaint alleges that Sell improperly allowed union
members to vote by e-mail on the ratification of the latest contract between the
union and MSU. Union bylaws called for a vote by mail.
Sell did not respond to telephone or e-mail requests for
Danny Layne, a hardware/software coordinator in MSU’s Julian
Samora Research Institute, is one of the leaders of APA Watch. He said that
Sell’s e-mail was a reference to a group of physical plant employees running as
newcomers to the executive board. The e-mail, which Layne has posted on the APA
Watch Web site, says in part that "I am concerned about an attempt … to replace
current, experienced, diverse Executive Board members with people from a single
unit, with a parochial interest and view, not to mention, NO experience in APA
leadership or bargaining or otherwise."
The e-mail also said that electing the newcomers would upset the
board’s gender and ethnic balance, and that the typical way to join the board is
to be appointed by the chairman to fill a vacancy.
The challengers lost the election to five board incumbents.
Layne and others filed a complaint with the MEA, requesting a
new election. According to Layne, the MEA Board of Reference issued a decision
saying that while the ballot was confusing, the case did not warrant a new
election except for one position, the region delegate to the MEA and National
Mike Ramirez was one of the physical plant employees who ran for
a seat on the executive board and lost. He told MER said he began attending
executive board meetings early in 2007 to learn more about what the union
receives in return for the $54 in monthly dues paid by members. MSU records show
that the university deducted $946,000 from APA members’ pay in 2006-2007 for
union dues or service fees.
"We started to pay more attention," Ramirez said. He and fellow
employees Dale Sebbon and Scott Kyes then decided to run for election.
Sell told the campus newspaper, The State News, in an article in
March that it would be unfair to the membership for several members of the board
to come from a single campus department, since the union represents a broad
range of nonsupervisory administrative and professional workers in some 250
The Watch group also filed a complaint with the MEA, as well as
a lawsuit, over a contract ratification vote conducted in October in which
e-mail voting was allowed. Union bylaws state that votes will be conducted by
"mail." Lansing Circuit Court Judge Paula Manderfield granted a temporary
restraining order preventing MSU from implementing the contract, but later
allowed the order to expire. She said that it was "fairly clear" that APA bylaws
required a mail vote, but that holding up the contract could be damaging to the
union membership. She noted that the MEA has an appeals process for such
Now the Watch Group is waiting for an MEA decision on the
contract ratification process, even as they invite members to sign recall
petitions and recruit candidates for the next board election in March. The group
also is gathering signatures to force a change in union bylaws that would allow
the general membership to elect the union president at large. Currently the
executive board elects the president.
Layne told Michigan Education Report said that the group’s
overall goal is to make members more aware of the executive board’s actions.
"We’ve done well," he said. "We’re trying to make it
The Watch group also is investigating the pros and cons of
disaffiliating from the MEA and becoming an independent union similar to others
at MSU, Layne said.