By Nick Smith
Posted: August 20, 2023 5:50 PM
The chair of the Senate Labor Committee called the opening months of the new term productive while adding that he looks forward to digging more deeply into policy work this fall given that the first budget passed by the Democratic Legislature is now in the rear-view mirror.
Sen. John Cherry (D-Flint) said recently the committee took testimony and moved several priority pieces of legislation during the first six months of the year and the fall will be the time to delve into items that are stilling pending.
"We had a lot of big priorities," Cherry said, pointing to the repeal of the state's right to work law and restoration of the prevailing wage that Democrats passed over Republican objections in the early months of this year (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 24, 2023).
The right to work repeal and prevailing wage bills were key labor policy items Democrats had long called for and campaigned on. Those were among several items the narrow Democratic majorities muscled through both chambers to the governor's desk in a flurry of activity shortly after the beginning of the year.
Several other items were reported by the committee in the opening months of the year including legislation dealing with teacher collective bargaining (See Gongwer Michigan Report, June 28, 2023).
"There's a lot of bills we had testimony on prior to the summer break that I expect we'll have votes taken on come fall," Cherry said.
Among Cherry's priorities are a pair of bills, SB 170 and SB 171, taken up for testimony only in June, to repeal PA 98 of 2011, which enacted restrictions on project labor agreements (a type of collective bargaining agreement), and repeal the Local Government Labor Regulatory Limitation Act, or PA 105 of 2015. The existing law bans local governments from setting requirements for minimum wage higher than that of the state minimum wage or other fringe benefits. Similar legislation is also before the House Labor Committee.
Cherry said a key priority for him once members return in the fall will be on a slate of bills that would enable law enforcement officers, including corrections officers whose retirements are within the defined contribution plans, to enroll in the State Police Retirement System pension plan that was established in 2012 (See Gongwer Michigan Report, May 4, 2023).
The senator said other policy items he expects to see introduced in the fall include changes to the state's worker's compensation system as well as changes to the unemployment insurance system.
Cherry said he has been in conversations with the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity as well as the Unemployment Insurance Agency and is being kept apprised of items being discussed among a modernization task force looking into the UI system.
Many of the bills before the committee have been reported along party lines. Cherry said he is hopeful that some labor legislation might be able to get some bipartisan support before the full chamber.
With the partisan divide on many business-labor issues especially in recent years, votes largely along party lines may be inevitable, he said.
"It is what it is," Cherry said of party-line votes on labor policy.
Cherry also serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee and chairs two appropriations subcommittees. This made it more difficult to meet when budget negotiations were being finalized, he said, adding the other two Democrats on his committee also chair appropriations subcommittees.
With the budget having been passed in late June, the fall months will afford members the opportunity to take a deeper dive into policy items, he said.