36 Days

No, cancelling the state employee pay raise is not an "unfair labor practice"

In explaining his refusal to vote on a resolution that would cancel a 3 percent raise for state employees, State Sen. Bruce Patterson, R-Canton, cited the opinion of the state’s budget director that such an action would constitute an “unfair labor practice.”

This is simply not so.

The confusion is understandable but easy enough to clear up. Ordinarily, under the National Labor Relations Act (which governs most private-sector labor relations) or the Public Employment Relations Act (which controls government unions in Michigan at the local level) for the employer to unilaterally change terms of employment would be to violate the terms of the contract. In those situations, the proper course of action would be to renegotiate the contract.

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But collective bargaining between the state and the unions that represent its employees are subject to a third law: rules passed by the Civil Service Commission. The CSC was set up under the state Constitution, which establishes the process by which the Legislature can override a pay increase for state employees that the CSC grants.

In other words, collective bargaining for state employees is the creation of the CSC, and is subject to the same limits that apply to any other CSC action. The override procedure in the state Constitution predates and takes precedence over any collective bargaining agreement. Which is as it ought to be: the Legislature must have final control over the public purse.

The bottom line is the Legislature has always had the authority to prevent pay raises authorized by the CSC, and collective bargaining agreements between the state and unions representing its employees have always been subject to the Legislature’s acquiescence. Because this override has not been used up until now, the confusion is forgiveable. Let’s hope Sen. Patterson and his colleagues get another chance to do the right thing.

The clock is ticking. They have 36 days to correct this mistake.