Compulsory Unionism for Government Employees

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935 established a policy of compulsory unionism for most of America's private-sector employees; however, its purview does not extend to government employees. State governments in 36 states including Michigan98 have instead passed their own legislation to establish compulsory unionism for state and local government employees in their jurisdictions. In 1978, Congress separately established mandatory collective bargaining for many employees of the federal government.

The 40-year decline in private-sector union membership has not been reflected in the public sector, where union members in 1998 represented nearly 38 percent of the public-sector workforce nationwide. In Michigan, over 55 percent of all public-sector employees are unionized,99 and many of those unionized employees are public school teachers.

The purpose of this chapter is to explain the legal rights and responsibilities of unionized federal and Michigan state and local government employees, and to describe the similarities and key differences between the Public Employment Relations Act, which governs public-sector employers and labor organizations in Michigan, and the National Labor Relations Act. The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, which governs unionization among federal employees, is also explained.