A council member responds
July 9, 2013



Lansing city council member Jody Washington responded to my article Can we afford another union supporter on City Council? with an email that said simply "Yes we can." Then she followed up with a longer email. She gave me permission to pass it along:

Steve -

All kidding aside, I do want to let you know that I really do appreciate your e-mails and find them to be quite informative.  In response to this particular report, I just want to say a few things.

I am proud of my labor endorsements.  I work hard every day for the everyday person.  Having the endorsement does not mean I am told how to vote by anyone on labor.  In fact, because of some of my votes, I may not get all the labor endorsements I received the first time.  I do come from a long line of blue collar workers, and I am not ashamed of that.

As far as labor contracts with the city are concerned, no one on council has ever negotiated any of the contracts.  Negotiating with the unions is the administration’s job.  I have no say whatsoever in what is agreed upon with the workers.  All I have ever said is, negotiate what you can live with.  I don’t think it is wise to negotiate a contract and come back in a short time and ask for concessions. 

For the two budget cycles I have been through, council has had no say in the budget whatsoever.  We were handed a budget.  Some of the council members did their due diligence and went through the budgets and made amendments.  The mayor vetoed all amendments both years (except one where we took money out of the council budget for sidewalks).  Three council members upheld his veto both years.  Therefore, if you are unhappy with the way the budget and finances are being handled, you are unhappy with the mayor and the three council members.

I understand the frustration of the people, as I too am frustrated.  I just would like your frustrations placed in the proper direction.  The contracts, the retirement, the finances—these are all done by the executive branch of the City of Lansing, not the legislative branch.  We have not had the number of council members to turn over anything the mayor has handed to us.


Jody Washington
Lansing City Council – 1st Ward

I don't care much for collective bargaining, whether it is in private industry or the public sector, but where it does the most damage is the public sector. In her third paragraph, Jody says:

As far as labor contracts with the city are concerned, no one on council has ever negotiated any of the contracts. Negotiating with the unions is the administration’s job.

The fact that council members are not involved in the collective bargaining process is an issue I addressed in November of last year. City employee compensation takes more of the city budget than any other item, yet all is negotiated behind closed doors, without the involvement of the city council and out of the public's view. Negotiated contracts often override city ordinances.

The National Labor Relations Act does not apply to the public sector. Michigan's public schools and local governments have been forced to engage in collective bargaining since 1965, with passage of the Public Employment Relations Act. The law spoils the democratic process for a critical part of local government and is the main cause of budget stress for local governments throughout Michigan. The law needs to be repealed. Collective bargaining should be a matter of local choice.

In the meantime, although Lansing city council members are shut out of the collective bargaining process, they still represent the people of Lansing and could be making their voices heard, loud and clear, about Lansing's underfunded pension systems, how they got that way and what can be done about it.