Michigan is shaping up to be the next big battleground in the Republican-led war on unions and public workers' rights.
In March, the state's Republican governor Rick Snyder signed Emergency Financial Manager Law Public Act 4, a law that grants state-appointed officials broad power to run cash-strapped communities and school districts. While the state has had Emergency Financial Managers (EFM's) for decades, critics—including Jesse Jackson, Rep. John Conyers and members of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus—say PA-4 has enhanced their authority in unprecedented ways.
For instance, in Benton Harbor, a predominantly black town of 11,000, emergency manager Joseph L. Harris effectively fired the town's elected officials with an order "prohibiting all action by all city boards, commissions and authorities, except as authorized by the emergency manager." (If you don't believe it, read Order No. 11-05 here.)
PA-4 also allows emergency managers to wage Scott-Brown style warfare on collective bargaining.
Last week, 28 residents filed a civil suit against Snyder in hopes that the blatantly unconstitutional law be rescinded.
"PA-4 establishes a new form of local government, unknown anywhere in the United States, where the people in local municipalities are governed by an unelected official who establishes local law by decree," Sugar Law Center legal director John Philo stated in a press release about the civil suit. "It's a backdoor way to end collective bargaining and effectively silence local firefighters, police, teachers, nurses and anyone who serves the public and provides essential local services."
Today, in a Chicago Sun Times editorial, Rev. Jesse Jackson puts the battle in a racial context:
"Michigan faces harrowing economic troubles, but it is not broke. This is an expression of the governor's insistence on cutting taxes on the rich and the corporations, and forcing working families to bear the costs of the recession. And it is not surprising that these emergency financial managers are being foisted disproportionately on cities and school districts with the poorest people and the highest numbers of minorities. Democracy, the governor seems to suggest, is something they can't afford."
Jackson also calls PA-4 part of "states rights ideology," thus connecting this latest labor battle to the Civil Rights struggle against Southern Jim Crow.
If only he were wrong.