Friday, June 22, 2012

What is a Contract if it's not a Contract? Or Even if it Is?

So after many, many months of glorying in his efforts to break public worker contracts in his great state of Michigan (formerly our great state of Michigan), Governor Ricky has decided that it's not okay to break a contract when it's a contract Governor Ricky doesn't want to break.

Governor Ricky is in the bridge-building business these days. (Real bridge-building, not the kind that builds bridges of understanding or cooperation.  Do NOT accuse him of such a thing!)

We already have a bridge in Detroit that takes us to Windsor, which is in that other country we don't like to talk about anymore because they seem to have their shit together when it comes to taking care of their own.  The bridge in Detroit is called the Ambassador Bridge, and, except for a time after 9/11, when we got a little crazy with stopping and searching, traffic flows regularly if not always speedily across it.  It's privately owned, which should thrill the Guv no end, but apparently there's something in it for him if another bridge is built a couple of miles south of the Ambassador that will take us to a spot a couple of miles south of where we already disembark on the Canadian side.  (Ed. note: Completely forgot to mention the tunnel that connects Detroit and Windsor, not far from the Ambassador Bridge. Detroiters and Windsorites already have two choices for border crossing.  The need for a third one is a mystery to all but the principals pushing this thing.)

It looks like Canada will be paying nearly the entire billion dollar cost (with some help from our dreaded, unneeded Federal government--that's us--for the plaza and approaches on our side),  so I don't quite get what's in it for Governor Ricky, but I know in my heart of hearts he and his cronies are going to benefit somehow from what's being touted as a "public/private venture".  

The ambitious project will provide jobs in our area and the steel used to build the bridge will come from both Canadian and American plants.  Not a bad thing at all.  But. . .
Map rendering:  Montreal Gazette
What brings me to this is Tuesday's story in the Detroit Free Press.  There are thousands of folks in Michigan (over 400,000 petition signers so far) who think this sort of undertaking requires approval by voters, and they want it on November's ballot.  Gov. R. says the deal can't be undone now because (chew on this for a while, public and even private employees) contracts have been signed.
Gov. Rick Snyder believes that even without special wording, a constitutional amendment passed by voters in November could not undo a contract signed in June, his spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said Monday.
"Like any other contract or agreement, it's intended to be binding and not impaired by other actions," Wurfel said.
Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun opposes the public span and is circulating petitions to get a proposal to amend the Michigan Constitution on the Nov. 6 ballot that would require a statewide vote on the new bridge.
In an interview last week, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said the state constitution "protects contracts from being amended after the fact from a standpoint of the retroactivity aspect of the proposal that they intend to put on the ballot."
Oy and gag and stop already!

Aren't these the same people who decided teacher contracts were about as obsolete as the unions that came up with them in the first place?  Aren't these the same people toying with doing away with public education--and their confounded public employee unions--and thus their contracts, with aid and comfort from ALEC, the Koch brothers and our own home-grown nemesis, the Mackinac Center? (Answer: Yes, they are.  The very same who also came up with the radical notion of taking over whole cities and towns--and thus their contracts as a sure-fire way to make their wishes come true. And also too, came up with heaping mounds of funds to do it.)

From the AP via the Huffington Post ("Gov Rick Snyder signs Teacher Tenure Law, Links Student Performance"):
Personnel issues related to layoffs and employee discipline no longer will be subject to contract negotiations, and teachers can be dismissed for any reason that's not "arbitrary or capricious." They previously could be discharged or demoted only for "reasonable and just cause." State superintendent Mike Flanagan has said the language should have been left unchanged to protect teachers' rights to due process.

 Here's the thing about contracts:  The assumption by both signing parties is that once the contract is signed, something important and lasting has taken place.  By consensual agreement, the signed contract is binding until one of three things happens:  It expires, the contracted job is successfully completed, or both parties agree to review and revise it. (the latter happens often these days with labor unions, where concessions almost always come from the workers and almost never from the employers.  If someone knows of a reverse story, I would love to hear about it.  It would be a 21st Century first for me.)

The idea of binding contracts is apparently old school and is losing favor all across the wide and mighty land.  The new thinking is that a contract is only good until the party with the most power breaks it. My new thinking is that that's not a contract, it's a bloody scam.


  1. Hello Ramona,
    Whenever I read an article like this, I am thankful for the writer, because such articles keep me informed on what is happening in the United States.
    I enjoyed reading it and can tell you that we had the same problem here in Stuttgart with the government signing contracts to build a new train station without the approval of its citizens. There was a stop construction due to the fact that the citizens took the streets and demonstrated against it every Saturday and Sunday until they were heard. It took over a year and they did not win the vote to completely stop it, but at least they achieved that there was a vote and the people could decide whether they wanted the new train station or not.
    Very good informative article and I thank you.

  2. Hi Pat, That's interesting that there's a parallel with contracts and voting in Germany. I suspect there's going to be more and more of that in the future--where voters will be left out of the mix as elected leaders see that, with Big Money behind them, they can do pretty much anything they want to do. We can stop that by choosing candidates more carefully, but if the majority of voters don't take their responsibilities seriously and keep electing people who allow themselves to be bought, we'll never get out of this mess.

    In a real democracy, leaders consider the citizens first. We're way past that. Something's gotta change here, and it better happen fast!

  3. Hypocrisy has its standards. I believe blatancy is Job One.

    Great post, Mona!

    Linda Tilsen

    1. Hey, Linda, I think your quote should go in BrainyQuotes! Good one!

  4. But, there is a history in the country of officials not adhering agreements in all the broken treaties with American Indian tribes.

    1. Exactly. There has always been a need for strong representation for the people who can't represent themselves. When we see that the people in power aren't going to work toward equity, we organize to make it happen.

      When times were good we didn't think we needed to support the unions and other community organizers who were working for the 99%, and we let our guard down. Now we have to try and get back what we've lost and it's going to be a hard slog uphill with all those rocks being hurled down on us from above.

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