Public employee union contracts drive up the cost
of local government in Michigan, but the public is often unaware of this.
Voters are rarely — if ever — told what all the contracts’ terms are or how
their city’s contracts compare to those in nearby communities.
This is why the Mackinac Center has taken the unique step of gathering
and posting online the government employee collective bargaining agreements for
all 83 Michigan county governments and the state’s 28 largest municipalities.
This new Michigan Local Government Database contains contracts for public
employees in law enforcement, courts, corrections, fire, public works, clerical
services and more from Alcona to Wexford counties. For Detroit alone, the database contains 29
contracts incorporating more than 750 work classifications, including
“aquarists,” “tree artisan helpers” and “comfort station matrons.”
After a strong debut in
early September, the database continues to draw attention, with over 250 hits
In Michigan, government employee benefits exceed those for
private-sector workers by nearly $5 billion annually. In many cases, expensive
health care plans are written into union contracts. Bringing local government’s
benefits back into balance can preserve important government services while
opening up the possibility of tax relief for families and employers.
Collective bargaining agreements often allow union
officials to conduct union business on government time, and sometimes even on
the government’s dime. For Macomb County, stewards get five hours per week paid
on union business, the unit chairman gets up to four hours a day, and there is
mandated release time for the three-member bargaining committee. In Saginaw,
public works committeemen and stewards are paid by the city for time lost on
grievances, bargaining and union meetings.
Another aspect of collective bargaining that deserves more
attention is the extent to which contracts protect government employees from
discipline. In Taylor County, nonrecurring disciplinary records are removed on
request after two years (one year if the issue is minor). In Detroit, letters
of reprimand are removed after two years regardless of recurrence. Contracts
with police officer unions also often include clauses providing for arbitration
of discipline, such as in Detroit, Novi and Dearborn Heights, all of which make
police departments less accountable to the public.
We can anticipate a wide range of reasons why Michiganders
would be interested in viewing these contracts, but the best reasons might be
the ones we can’t anticipate: local conditions might make an innocuous-looking
contract clause a budget-buster; petty political intrigues can create
opportunities for payoffs buried in agreements. These are the sorts of things
that local residents may sniff out as they look over the products of collective
Our research shows that collective bargaining under current
state law does not serve the public interest. The contract database should be a
useful tool for illustrating why.