In 1947, the Michigan legislature passed Public Act (PA) 336, the Public Employment Relations Act (PERA),4 which allowed state employees for the first time to organize and enter into collective bargaining agreements. Prior to PERA's enactment, recognition or bargaining with a public sector union was illegal.5
The MEA abandoned its image as a professional educator organization in favor of the trade union model already adopted by the AFT.
However, the growth of government employee unions did not really begin until after Executive Order 10988. In the mid-1960s, aggressive lobbying efforts by the NEA and AFT in Michigan resulted in the 1965 passage of PA 379, which fundamentally revised PERA.
PA 379 eliminated the penalties for public employees who went on strike.6 Previously, government employees who violated PERA were considered to have terminated their employment.7 Though these new amendments to PERA did not legalize strikes by government employees, they substantially weakened the ability of public employers to withstand the pressure from union-initiated work stoppages.
The newly revised PERA of 1965 served as a focal point for teacher union organizing. The NEA's Michigan affiliate, the Michigan Education Association (MEA) was officially recognized as a bargaining representative, and Michigan teachers soon became the first major state employee group to organize under the new statute.8
Other government employee bargaining representatives quickly moved to establish the legal privilege of bargaining exclusively for a group of public employees. The MEA abandoned its image as a professional educator organization in favor of the trade union model already adopted by the AFT.
The AFT's union image, meanwhile, caused its organizing attempts to be met with more resistance as teachers sought to maintain the professionalism long associated with teaching.9 (This same controversy has re-emerged today as the NEA recently voted on a merger with the AFL-CIO-affiliated AFT. The proposed merger was overwhelmingly rejected by delegates from the NEA's state affiliates, including the MEA.)
Despite the controversy over image, more than three-quarters of Michigan's school districts had by 1968 either voluntarily granted recognition to a representative teacher organization or granted recognition following a representation election.10