Study: Michigan’s Public Employment Relations Act Should Be Overhauled or Eliminated

‘Collective bargaining for government workers is a privilege, not a right,’ says Mackinac Center labor analyst

For Immediate Release
Monday, Feb. 14, 2011
Contact: Paul Kersey
Director of Labor Policy
or
Michael D. Jahr
Senior Director of Communications
989-631-0900

MIDLAND — A Michigan law that requires public-sector collective bargaining in local governments and public schools undermines the rule of law, burdens taxpayers with unsustainable costs and should be eliminated, according to a new Policy Brief by Paul Kersey, the Mackinac Center’s director of labor policy. The report, “Reconsidering Michigan’s Public Employment Relations Act,” presents a wide range of reform proposals, from an open government employment reform that prohibits requiring nonmembers to pay unions so-called “agency fees” to eliminating local government public-sector bargaining altogether.

“Collective bargaining for government workers is a privilege, not a right,” said Kersey. “Just as the Legislature created the Public Employment Relations Act in 1965, it could bring collective bargaining in local governments to an end. At a minimum, elected officials need to correct significant flaws in the law. But one way or another, Lansing should accept full responsibility for the dysfunctional process it has created.”

The new report is the conclusion of a two-part series on the Public Employment Relations Act. In the first study, released in 2009, Kersey showed how PERA is a factor in many of the state’s difficulties: underachieving public schools, the undermining of state and local laws, costly public-employee compensation and the emergence of a permanent, subsidized public-sector lobby for bigger government.

“It’s clear that PERA has resulted in governments’ signing contracts that are not in the best interest of the public they are supposed to serve,” he said. “The whole point of bargaining, whether collective bargaining or kids swapping baseball cards, is to come up with a deal that leaves both parties better off. They should be free to break off negotiations if acceptable terms can’t be reached — a principle of ‘win-win or no deal.’ The problem with PERA is local governments are required to bargain whether it’s in the public interest or not.”

Kersey’s recommendation is simple: “The local government bargaining mandate should be dropped and collective bargaining should be banned. If the Legislature finds this too comprehensive, it should give local officials and school boards the discretion to decide whether to bargain collectively, while insisting on state laws, such as a requirement for secret-ballot elections, that preserve workers’ and taxpayers’ rights.”

Failing that, Kersey recommends that the state establish an open government employment rule. “When local governments force their employees to pay agency fees to a union even when they do not wish to join it, they are effectively subsidizing union politics,” he noted. “This makes unions unaccountable to the men and women they are supposed to represent and gives union officials disproportionate clout. Local government has no business supporting what is essentially a lobbying group.” Kersey also recommends other targeted reforms, such as increased union spending transparency and a state legislative requirement that government employee collective bargaining contracts conform to state and local law.

The report comes out as neighboring states are considering momentous changes to their own governmental collective bargaining laws. Legislation that would end or severely restrict collective bargaining for state employees has been proposed in both Ohio and Wisconsin.

The entire study can be found at www.mackinac.org/14565.

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