- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Civil Service Commission voted Wednesday to impose higher health care costs on about 32,000 unionized Michigan government workers.

Roughly 70 percent of Michigan’s 47,000 employees have union representation.

The commission voted 3-1 at its meeting in Lansing to accept wage increases and health benefit terms that an impasse panel had recommended. Commissioners postponed the decision Dec. 18 after deadlocking 2-2 on an alternate proposal that excluded some health care cuts.

The impasse panel’s recommendations came after unions and Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration disagreed on wages and health benefits.

Commission chairman Thomas Wardrop said it would be wrong to change the impasse panel’s recommendations after all its work.

“I want state employees to have a pay increase, and that’s why I’m going to vote yes on this,” Wadrop said.

The proposal passed after a switch by Commissioner Robert Swanson, a Democrat, who said he was concerned that state employees would be left with no contract and no pay increase if the commission remained deadlocked.

“What we are doing today is a travesty,” said Swanson. State workers “have stepped up to the plate time after time during the worst recession since the 1930s and made concession after concession.”

Kurt Weiss, spokesman for the state Office of State Employer, said having certainty about Michigan government’s labor costs is “good news.”

“We now have decisions around employee compensation so that we can build that information into the budget recommendation for fiscal year 2015,” Weiss told The Associated Press. “While the state didn’t get all the things asked for in the impasse panel recommendation, we understand the impasse process and respect the good work done by the panel.”

The contract includes a 2 percent wage increase and a 0.5 percent lump sum payment in 2014 and a 2 percent pay increase in 2015. It raises co-pays, deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums for health care.

A group representing state employee unions condemned the contract.

“State of Michigan employees have already saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars during the state’s challenging economic times, agreeing to quadruple health insurance premiums and higher out-of-pocket costs,” the Coalition of State Employee Unions said in a statement. “Neither the economic information provided by the state nor the State’s current $1.2 billion in unanticipated extra 2013 revenue required the continued concessionary demand.”

Mel Grieshaber, executive director of the Michigan Corrections Organization, said it’s time “workers got a break.”

“We’ve done our part and we’ve been falling farther behind while Gov. Snyder gave his big business friends a $1.8 billion tax cut, and gave 40 to 90 percent raises to his investment managers. It’s obscene.”

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