Introduction: “Personnel Is Policy”

The Michigan Public Employment Relations Act is simultaneously among the most important and least-discussed laws ever passed by the Michigan Legislature. It affects nearly every facet of operations for townships, incorporated cities and counties, not to mention intermediate and local school districts. Tens of thousands of government employees, from clerks to police officers to teachers, are covered by its provisions. Michigan state employees are also organized under very similar rules promulgated by the state Civil Service Commission.

The Public Employment Relations Act and the collective bargaining agreements that are negotiated under its provisions determine not only wages, benefits and working hours, but also work assignments, layoffs, work rules and disciplinary procedures. Because personnel costs make up a substantial portion of government expenditures, PERA has enormous consequences for local budgeting and, by extension, local tax rates. Because work rules established by collective bargaining affect the deployment, tasks and performance standards for government employees, PERA also has significant influence on the implementation of public policy beyond the budget. If there is any truth to the old adage that "personnel is policy," then it is impossible to fully understand public policy in Michigan without a working knowledge of PERA.

In essence, PERA is a direct adaptation of the National Labor Relations Act, a federal labor law designed to cover for-profit enterprises. The application of a private-sector labor law to public schools and local agencies, with little done to adjust for the particular interests of government, has immensely complicated the functioning of government. PERA has had the effect of undermining democratic, representative self-government itself, corroding the principles upon which Michigan government itself is based. In the process, PERA has made local agencies and public schools less effective and more burdensome, draining funds from families and employers and sapping economic strength from the people of Michigan.

This report will discuss many of the consequences of PERA and suggest solutions. If collective bargaining is to be practiced in the public sector, the labor law will need to be completely restructured so that it is in line with the principles of a free, democratically governed society. The NLRA's model of adversarial labor relations must be set aside.