Unions, Snyder administration can’t agree on who should attend contract talks

BY RICK PLUTA
Michigan Public Radio Network

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration and state employee unions are arguing about who should be in the room during contract bargaining. It’s thrown a wrench into talks on contracts that will begin in 2015 for 35,000 union-represented workers including Department of Human Services caseworkers, environmental scientists, and corrections officers.

The five unions would like to bargain as a single unit with State Employer Jan Winter. She is Governor Rick Snyder’s lead negotiator. Coalition bargaining was tried two years ago and, even though the talks went down to the wire, both sides said they were satisfied with the result.

But, this year, Winter said she’d like to have fewer people actually at the bargaining table. She said the presence of bargaining committees made up of state employees makes the negotiations unwieldy, and she’d prefer to deal strictly with union leaders.

“When it comes to coordinating bargaining with more than one union, we believe the process can be made more efficient and effective by meeting collectively with leaders and a smaller number of representatives as we did when the final agreement was reached in 2011 rather than with nearly 100 people in a bargaining room,” said Winter spokesman Kurt Weiss in an e-mail.

The unions said that’s a non-starter with them.

“They’re trying to divide the unions,” said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada. “Your bargaining committees need to be there.”

Estrada said the members of the bargaining committee can offer immediate feedback on what departmental workers will and will not find acceptable. She said their presence in the talks also make them a valuable resource when it comes time to sell the contracts to the members.

The unions said this also represents a turnaround by the Snyder administration on its commitment to joint union bargaining sessions.

For now, the state will carry on separate negotiations with each of the unions. The unions are United Auto Workers Local 6000, the Michigan State Employees Association, Service Employees International Union Locals 517M and 526M, the Michigan Corrections Organization, and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 25 and Local 5.

Estrada said the bargaining committees will be present for those talks. She said the unions have also agreed to negotiate matching contracts with the state. The Snyder administration needs the contracts wrapped up by the end of the year so they can be incorporated into a 2015 budget proposal that’s due early next year.

Copyright 2013, MPRN

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Major changes to Michigan’s parole system could be in the works

BY JAKE NEHER
Michigan Public Radio Network
There are calls in Lansing to overhaul Michigan’s parole system. Advocates said the state keeps people in prison far longer than necessary.
They said that costs Michigan taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
Michigan’s inmates stay in prison longer than those in any of the 35 states Pew Research Center studied in 2012. 
For Monica Jahner, that meant spending 28 years of her life behind bars. She was sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to commit murder in 1978. No one died in her case. 
But Jahner doesn’t see herself as a victim. She said she spent those 28 years in prison trying to improve her life and the lives of fellow inmates.
“I got my degree and, you know, I did a lot while I was there. I didn’t just sit around. I fought and helped to get education for the women. My journey was a good one because I made a lot of impact on the system, I think,” Jahner said.
Jahner got her first chance at parole ten years into her sentence. But right around that same time, a Michigan convict on parole confessed to killing four teenage girls. Jahner said that made it nearly impossible for people like her to get in front of the parole board.
It was another 18 years before she walked out the front door of Scott Correctional Facility in Plymouth after a string of parole battles.
She now works with former inmates and parolees to get their lives on track, and advocates for prisoners who are still inside.
“I go door to door to go out there and let people see you can give people a second chance. When they find out I go to prison, I mean, literally heads spin around.” Jahner said.
Jahner believes the only reason she won parole was because third-party prisoner advocates took interest in her case.
One of those groups was the Michigan-based Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, or “CAPPS.” Executive Director Laura Sager said prisoners are too often denied parole based on so-called “tough on crime” politics and preconceived notions of who prisoners are.
“We really need to stay close to the evidence. We need to understand what works, and what works both to prevent crime and who’s at real risk for recommitting crimes,” Sager said.
Sager said almost thirty percent of prisoners who have been denied parole fall in the lowest risk category for release. That’s based on the Michigan Department of Corrections’ own assessment. 
“We’re spending a hundred million dollars to keep that group in prison alone,” Sager said.
Among other things, CAPPS said the state’s parole board should be required to release prisoners when they first become eligible. That’s unless objective evidence suggests they’re a risk to public safety.
Sager said that would free up hundreds of millions of dollars the state could spend on programs that are proven to improve public safety, things like early childhood education, mental health treatment programs, and substance abuse programs.
But Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette isn’t buying it.
“I suppose if you had no prisons, you’d reduce your corrections costs. But that wouldn’t make a safer Michigan,” Schuette said.
Schuette said it would not be fair to victims and their families to see these offenders go free. He said the best way to cut prison costs is more privatization.
“Let’s run our prisons more efficiently instead of saying, ‘Oh gee, the only way we can cut costs is letting out dangerous prisoners.’ I’m not going to stand for that,” Schuette said.
State House Appropriations Chair Joe Haveman said he agrees there’s room for more privatization of prison functions. But he said the only way to really make a dent in the state’s two-billion dollar a year corrections budget is to do something about the prison population and length of stay.
But he said it’s going to take time to sell the idea of a parole system overhaul to his colleagues in Lansing.
In the meantime, advocates said thousands of Michigan prisoners will be fighting an uphill battle for release.
Copyright 2013, MPRN

Former state prison site in Detroit converts to city lockup

BY SARAH CWIEK

An old state prison in Detroit has become a central lock-up for people arrested in the city.

The Michigan Department of Corrections will run the Detroit Detention Center.

Officials call the center “a unique city-state partnership” that will create a more efficient processing system.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig said it should also free up more police officers.

“Traditionally,
processing detainees by arresting officers has been a very
time-consuming activity. The opening of this facility will significantly
expedite detainee processing for officers, allowing them to return to
the street,” Craig said.

Officials said the facility will also have better conditions for prisoners.

Detroit Police have been under federal oversight since 2003, in part because of poor conditions for prisoners.

MCO files collective action suit over portal to portal time

BY DAVID NICHOLAS
Yesterday, the Michigan Corrections Organization formally filed suit in U.S. District Court recoup what it said are wages owed for uncompensated portal to portal time.
Mel Grieshaber, spokesperson for the MCO, said compensation was paid three years ago.
The term refers to travel time, special instructions, or other duties from when an officer clocks in until he or she begins a work assignment
The suit is a collective action rather than class action because, under federal law, union-represented members must opt-in for legal representation. 
Grieshaber said at the time of yesterday’s filing, the union had received almost 2,300 consent forms, representing approximately one third of its 7,000 members. 
In addition, approximately one thousand retirees impacted by the change have been offered the chance to submit consent forms.
According to Grieshaber, members can submit the opt-in forms during a two-week window beyond the filing date.
Russ Marlin of the Michigan Department of Corrections said the state’s policy is to not comment on pending or current legal proceedings.

MCO set to file class action over portal to portal time

BY DAVID NICHOLAS
The Michigan Corrections Organization is hoping to file a class action lawsuit today to recoup what it said are wages owed for uncompensated portal to portal time. 
The term refers to travel time, special instructions, or other duties from when an officer clocks in until he or she begins a work assignment.
Mel Grieshaber, spokesperson for the MCO, said compensation was paid for so-called portal to portal time until three years ago.
The union contacted its 7,000 current members and approximately 1,000 retirees impacted by the change. 
Federal law requires union-represented workers to opt-in for legal representation by signing a consent form. The MCO has been gathering those responses since early last week. As of mid afternoon yesterday, over 2,500 had been received. 
According to Grieshaber, members can submit the opt-in forms during a two-week window beyond the filing date. 
Russ Marlin of the Michigan Department of Corrections said the state’s policy is to not comment on pending or current legal proceedings.

MCO prepares to file lawsuit

BY DAVID NICHOLAS
The Michigan Corrections Organization is preparing to file a class action lawsuit to recoup what it said are wages owed for portal to portal time.
The term refers to either travel time, special instructions, or picking up equipment from when an officer clocks in until he/she reaches an assignment.
Mel Griesaber, spokesperson for the MCO, said compensation was paid for these requirements up until three years ago.
Lawyers advising the union said the compensation could be substantial.
“I’m told that, by the lawyers, that you can go back two and in some cases three years but there is a statute of limitations on this and it’s either two years or three years and if we are successful, that could be a couple of million dollars in the aggregate for the 7,000 correctional officers around the state.”
Griesaber said that federal law requires union-represented workers to opt-in for legal representation by signing a consent form.
Notices went out earlier this week, and Griesaber said the filing could be as early as today or early next week, pending the number of opt-in forms collected by the MCO.
Russ Marlin of the Michigan Department of Corrections said the state’s policy is to not comment on pending or current legal proceedings.

ACLU sues Isabella County jail for sex discrimination

BY JESI MUNGUIA
The Isabella County Correctional Facility is the target of a lawsuit filed this week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. 
Charges include cruel and unusual punishment, the ACLU suit said the jail is violating prisoner rights by not allowing them out of their cell to exercise. 
The Isabella county sheriff has responded by saying, “we’re in a bind, the jail is old,” noting too that the facility is landlocked with no room to expand. 
Also in the suit are charges of sex discrimination citing female inmates not being able to serve in a trustee positions, jobs done within the jail to shorten the inmate’s sentence. 
Sheriff Leo Mioduszewki of Isabella county said they’re not trying to personally discriminate against women…
“Anywhere from 85 to 90 percent of our inmates are male population we have very few females. Because we house both males and females they have to be separated there can be no contact it has to be sight and sound barrier there. So unfortunately because we have so few females there’s no way we can have females be trustees without coming into contact with a male inmate. We’re once again in a bind based on the configuration of our jail.”
Sheriff Mioduszewki said many modern jails are able to have separate areas where there can be male and female trustees.  
He adds that officials are “doing their best to comply” with the charges.