Since the 1930s, Michigan has been among the most heavily unionized states in the union. While some states do not engage in collective bargaining in the public sector, Michigan government has freely accepted the presence of organized labor, with many state laws reflecting the priorities of labor unions. Michigan’s prevailing wage law, for instance, explicitly requires the adoption of union wages and benefits.[*] This language stands in contrast to the federal Davis-Bacon act and comparable wage laws in many other states.
In spite of recent amendments,[†] PERA retains its basic character, both in the process of union recognition and collective representation. Unions continue to represent all workers within a bargaining unit, including those who openly oppose unionization. Local governments and school districts are still obligated to bargain in good faith with recognized unions, and if they (or the unions) fail to do so, they are subject to unfair labor practice charges that will be adjudicated by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission. Certain limits have been placed on the scope of bargaining, but the vast majority of the traditional topics of bargaining — wages, benefits, hours, and working conditions — remain open to negotiation, and there is little in the law to prevent unions from pursuing creative approaches to protecting or rewarding workers. And workers can still be required by union contracts to pay agency fees or dues to a union that they may oppose.
Most employees of state government itself can also be organized and represented by unions under rules established by the Michigan Civil Service Commission. Much like PERA, the CSC’s rules give unions broad powers to represent all workers in a bargaining unit, to bargain in good faith with a state government required to do likewise, and to collect dues and fees from all workers without regard to whether individual workers support the union. There has been no indication that the CSC is likely to rescind these rules.
[*] Michigan’s “prevailing wage law” requires construction contractors working on state-financed projects to pay “prevailing wages and fringe benefits at the same rate that prevails on projects of a similar character in the locality under collective agreements or understandings between bona fide organizations of construction mechanics and their employers.” MCL § 408.554.
[†] Several of these amendments would be affected by Proposal 2. They are discussed below, under “Public School Management Provisions.”