LANSING-In July, a group of public employee unions turned in 400,000 signatures to qualify the Michigan Employee Rights Initiative - which would give state public sector workers the right to collectively bargain and to seek binding arbitration in contract disputes - for Michigan's November ballot. The initiative is now known as Proposal 3. Union leaders cited outsourcing of state work to private companies as one of the major reasons for the move.

Leaders of the Services Employees International Union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Michigan State Troopers Association and the United Auto Workers Local 600, complain that contracts negotiated with the Office of the State Employer are often changed by the Michigan Civil Service Commission, which has final say in these matters. 

They charge, for example, that union contract provisions requiring state outsourcing proposals to show they would save money for the state have been stripped out of previously signed agreements by the Commission.

But according to Dan McLellan, legal counsel for the Commission, at no time in the ensuring decade has the Commission stripped such a provision from a union contract, because such a limitation has not actually appeared in a collective bargaining agreement.

In fact, Commissioner Robert P. Hunter, who is also labor policy director for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, anticipates that passage of the Michigan Employee Rights Initiative ultimately will have no impact whatsoever on the state government's ability to contract out with private companies for services.

Denise Sloan, spokeswoman for the coalition, provided an ironic twist when she, in complaining about having contract provisions reversed by the Commission, contrasted in a revealing way what it's like to deal with the private vs. the public sectors. "You make a deal with Ford or GM, you know you've got a deal," Sloan told the Lansing State Journal. "You make a deal with the state, maybe you do or maybe you don't."