Michigan, UAW To Start Contract Negotiations

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan's largest state employees union and representatives of Gov. Rick Snyder's administration marked the start of contract talks Wednesday, with both sides saying a dispute over whether state workers are covered by the state's new right-to-work law is unlikely to affect negotiations.

UAW President Bob King and a top deputy shook hands with Jan Winters, director of the Office of the State Employer, during an afternoon event at the UAW Local 6000 headquarters in Lansing.

The contracts for 34,000 unionized state employees end Dec. 31. The UAW represents about half of them, and the other half are represented by four smaller unions.

Talks with those other unions are expected to begin soon if the state and union leaders agree on a process where all the contracts are discussed jointly in the same room. The contracts likely could last two or three years.

Neither state administrators nor union officials divulged specifics on potential changes in pay and health care benefits.

"Let the courts deal with (right-to-work) so we can focus on how we continue to make improvements for the citizens of Michigan, how we continue to make sure that the workers who deliver the services are getting the wages and benefits that help them have middle-class jobs," said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada.

Since Snyder signed the law that bars requiring unionized employees to pay dues or fees, questions have been raised on whether it applies to state workers because the bipartisan Civil Service Commission, which sets compensation for state employees, has separate powers under the state constitution.

Winters agreed that the right-to-work law's application to state workers is for courts to decide. She mentioned that health care always is an issue because costs are rising.

"I'm not going to go into any specific proposals other than a generalized comment in terms of what we as an employer are facing and that's the same as all employers are facing, and that's just looking at costs and how to jointly address costs," Winters said.

Under current contracts, unionized employees will get a 1 percent lump-sum raise on Oct. 1 and nonunionized employees a 1 percent base raise.

In 2011, Snyder signed bills so new hires aren't eligible to receive state health care coverage when they retire and long-term employees covered by the state's pension plan contribute 4 percent of their pay to keep the benefit. An Ingham County judge declared the 4 percent pension contribution unconstitutional, and the state Court of Appeals now is weighing the case.

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