Michigan county, municipal and public school district employees are covered by the Public Employee Relations Act, which provides for collective bargaining. Like most states that mandate collective bargaining, Michigan's collective bargaining system borrows heavily from the scheme imposed on the private sector by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA): Unions gain recognition by winning a majority of votes cast in an election open to all members of a bargaining unit. Once recognized, the union is the representative of all employees in the unit, and no employee can exercise their right to "opt-out" and negotiate individually.9

State employees also are allowed to bargain collectively, but under a different set of rules. Article XI, Section 5 of the Constitution of the State of Michigan places nearly all state employment issues under the jurisdiction of the CSC. While the Legislature may create or abolish positions "for reasons of administrative efficiency" under the state constitution, it is the CSC that determines classification, compensation, qualifications and merit, and conditions of employment. The CSC also must approve whenever the state contracts out or privatizes state services. Current CSC rules are favorable to contracting out state services to the private sector, allowing the state to bid out services that are intermittent, specialized, require materials or equipment not usually available to the state, or can be provided at a substantial savings by not using civil service employees.10

There are a few exceptions to the CSC's authority: The state Constitution provides for a limited number of policy-making employees who are beyond the reach of the CSC, and excludes employees of the courts, the Legislature, and institutions of higher learning. An amendment to the state constitution, passed in 1978, extended collective bargaining and binding arbitration to state police troopers and sergeants, and effectively removed them from the CSC's jurisdiction. Also, the state Legislature retains one check on the authority of the CSC: It may cancel or reduce CSC-approved wage increases; however, this action must apply to all state employees, and requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature.

These exceptions aside, however, the Civil Service Commission is still the final authority on the terms of employment for over 60,000 state workers.

As specified in the state constitution, the CSC is composed of four members appointed by the governor. Membership on the CSC is bipartisan, and its members serve eight-year terms. The long terms and the even partisan split allow the CSC to be above the political fray; the long term of office also allows CSC members the opportunity to become familiar with both the demands of state employment and the intricacies of the state budget.

The CSC instituted collective bargaining for state employees in 1980. Current CSC rules allow for union representation of state employees but with two important exceptions. First, the CSC reserves the right to review collective bargaining agreements to assure that they are in keeping with its own rules. Rarely does this review affect substantive terms of an agreement such as wages and benefits. But contract terms affecting such topics as privatization of state services will be struck as not constituting proper subjects for bargaining under CSC rules.11

Impasses are resolved in a two-step procedure: First, the issue is referred to the Employment Relations Board (ERB), whose members are appointed by the CSC. The Board works up a recommended settlement that the parties may accept or reject. If the ERB is unable to resolve the impasse, the matter goes to the CSC for a final determination.12

This arrangement has worked well for state employees in terms of compensation. A September 1995 survey of private-sector wages in Michigan, commissioned by the Office of the State Employer, found that state wages were higher than wages in comparable job categories in the private sector in all but eight of 41 categories of state employees. Wages paid by the state of Michigan also compare favorably with those of other Great Lakes states - out of 55 job categories, Michigan paid above average wages in 44.13 Similar results were found in 2001 when the American Federation of Teachers compared the rates of pay for 28 categories of state employees, giving a pay range for each type of employee in each state. The ranges for Michigan employees were higher (meaning both the bottom and top of the range of pay in Michigan were above the national averages) in most categories.14

The procedures established by the Civil Service Commission for contract negotiation and approval also provide for prompt resolution of collective bargaining disputes. The CSC's rules contain strict deadlines for negotiation and impasse resolution, assuring that a new contract will be in place before the preceding contract expires. The CSC has enforced these deadlines rigorously. This allows the Legislature to take employee costs into account at the beginning of the budget-making process, and simultaneously allows employees to receive raises or benefit improvements in a timely fashion.15

In evaluating the constitutional and statutory provisions covering labor relations with state employees, it must be remembered that state employment is a facet of governmental policy. State employees are hired to enforce state laws and implement state policies. The process that sets the wages of state employees can have a dramatic impact on budget decisions. And the costs it imposes must eventually be borne by Michigan taxpayers.

In summary, there are a number of commendable aspects of the current Civil Service system:

  • Employment policy is set by a bipartisan Civil Service Commission appointed by the state's chief executive, but members are given long terms which promote independence of thought and action.

  • The long terms given to CSC members also assure that critical employment decisions are made by a body with expertise in both the demands placed on state employees and the intricacies of the state's policies and budget.

  • The bipartisan makeup of the CSC helps protect workers from decisions motivated by partisan concerns.

  • The state has the flexibility to contract for services when it is practical to do so, while state employees are protected from terminations due to partisanship or discrimination.

  • Workers also are free to organize, and state agencies are expected to bargain and reach mutually agreeable contracts with unions representing state employees, with agreements reviewed and impasses resolved by an independent, experienced Civil Service Commission.