News Story

Oops, House Committee Chair Not Sure How Union-Friendly Language Got Into Teacher Pension Bill

Private contractors would be classified as public employees, possibly subject to unionization efforts

Language that would have made anyone who contracted to provide services to a school a "public employee" and thus subject to the potential of being unionized will not be included in a newly drafted House substitute bill on teacher pension reform, said House Appropriations Committee Chair Chuck Moss, R-Birmingham.

He said the inclusion of that clause in the bill was a "blooper."

"Now we know it is there . . . it's a blooper," he said. "It's something that slipped though. We're going to put it out of its misery and get rid of it before we take a vote on the bill. It will come out."

If the language is not removed, anyone who works for a private business but does contract work for a school could be considered a public employee. Snowplow drivers, janitorial service providers and food service providers are some of those who would be affected.

Government unions have been trying to expand the definition of who is eligible to be a public employee. Under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, unions were able to claim day care workers were public employees and subsequently unionized (Gov. Rick Snyder later ended that scheme.). More recently, but also under the guidance of former Gov. Granholm, those who get Medicaid checks for caring for relatives or friends at their homes also were declared public workers and unionized. Gov. Snyder also has signed a law to end that practice.

Most Republicans oppose these efforts.

That's why observers were surprised when they found this language in a House Republican bill. A possible motive for whomever put the language in is that such an expansion of the definition of public employees would result in more contributors to the pension system, which would reduce the rates that teachers pay.

The language in question also would apply to universities and colleges as well.

At times, language appears in newly drafted bills that lawmakers do not intend. Rep. Moss said that was the case with the language in question. However, other portions of the legislation appear generally more in line with the union position on the pension issue than what was introduced with the Senate version of the bill.

"Much of this House substitute (bill) addresses concerns expressed by government employee unions," said Michael Van Beek, director of education policy for Mackinac Center for Public Policy. "But it certainly doesn't address the longterm sustainability of the program."

Rep. Moss said he disagrees on both counts.

"This is not about the unions. It's about paying down our debt," he said. "They've been here testifying and anyone who has heard them knows that the unions don't like this bill. The bottom line is that we have to start paying down our debt of $45 billion or it will later become $90 billion.


See also:

Commentary: Legislators Choose School Employees Over Taxpayers on Retirement Benefit Reform

Commentary: Low-Balled School Pension Contributions Kick Taxpayers in the Teeth

Teacher Upset She Can't Retire at 47

Retired Educator Says He 'Would Not Have Gone Into Teaching' With Proposed Pension Reform