Granting Michigan workers more flexibility in their work schedules by recognizing their preference for comp time is a progressive, pro-worker, family-friendly reform whose time has come.
23. Outlaw the use of "project labor agreements" on any building
construction using state funds within the state of Michigan.
"Project labor agreements" (PLAs) mandate that all contractors must employ
members of designated unions for all labor performed on a particular site. These
"union-only" arrangements are frequently agreed to by state and local
governments in order to guarantee labor peace during the life of a given
contract. But the premium paid for this peace also permits union discrimination
and noncompetitive bidding to persist.
Assuring labor peace on a construction site is a legitimate goal, but strikes
are primarily a function of unions themselves. Consequently, nonunion
contractors are actually in a better position than union contractors to deliver
on a no-strike promise. PLAs are not a foolproof means of avoiding labor strife;
in fact, strikes and other delays have occurred on projects covered by PLAs in
As a matter of public interest, the Legislature should ensure that Michigan's
public construction awards are consistent with existing state bidding policies
designed to foster competition in government contracting. The purpose of the
many bidding laws is to protect the public by placing bidders on an equal
footing, and to ensure that competition will eliminate the possibility of fraud,
extravagance, or favoritism in the expenditure of public funds. But PLAs reduce
competition and cause discrimination against nonunion employees in favor of
union membership. This discrimination has potentially severe detrimental effects
on nonunion employees and employers.
For further information, please see
24. Pre-empt local "living wage" ordinances.
The proliferation of municipal "living wage" ordinances is a threat to economic
growth in Michigan. These ordinances require employers who do business with a
city, or who benefit from tax abatements, "enterprise zones," or other
subsidies, to pay employees an above-market premium wage of around $8 to $12 an
hour, and often require health benefits. As this report was written,13 "living
wage" laws were in effect for Detroit, Ann Arbor, Eastpointe, Ferndale,
Pittsfield Township, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, and the Washtenaw County
Road Commission (see Chart 5).
"Living wage" ordinances have a certain superficial appeal; they are usually
presented as a way to lift workers-and the families they support-out of poverty.
But their appeal rests on a lack of knowledge about how the labor market works.
These ordinances actually tear away the lower rungs on the ladder to economic
opportunity. A Michigan House committee recently heard from small businesses
with specific examples: A machine shop owner testified that he has seven
employees and would like to hire more, but won't be able to if his city adopts a
proposed living wage ordinance. "I just hired an ex-con at $7.50 an hour, and if
he does well he can make a lot more. With a $10 living wage I could not take a
chance on this employee, or younger, lower skilled workers."14
By artificially raising the cost of labor, "living wage" ordinances force
employers to hire higher-skilled workers (in order to improve productivity and
justify the higher wage rates) or reduce their payrolls. In either case,
unskilled workers don't gain income-they lose jobs. And in the process, they
lose opportunities to gain the work experience and on-the-job training necessary
to find their way to higher wage employment. At the same time, higher wage costs
lead to higher prices on goods and services sold to local government. These
costs are eventually passed on to taxpayers in the form of higher taxes or
The spread of "living wage" ordinances is the result of a nationwide campaign
by union officials. While such proposals have long been rejected by Congress and
state legislatures because of their harmful economic effects, they often find
fertile ground among ambitious local politicians. Not all local politicians are
fooled, however. Ed McNamara, the Democratic executive of Wayne County, may have
summed up "living wage" ordinances best, if rather bluntly: "living wage" is a
"diabolical instrument that's got to be eliminated. It's the greatest deterrent
to economic development of anything out there."15
Wages should be agreed to by employers and employees, not dictated by the
government. "Living wage" laws simply add another level of government
interference in the market. By pre-empting local "living wage" laws, the state
of Michigan would clear away obstacles to job creation, economic growth, and
Local "living wage" laws are simplistic public policy with bad economic results.
The Legislature should not hesitate to set them aside.
For further information, please see
25. Give Michigan workers a flexible "comp-time" law.
In today's workplace, the act of punching a time clock in factory fashion is
disappearing. The nature of work is changing and so are the needs and desires of
workers who want ever more flexibility in their hours and compensation. Laws
governing the workplace, however, are not always keeping pace. The issue known
as "comp time" is a case in point.
Under existing law, hourly wage earners must be paid time-and-a-half or more for
anything beyond the normal eight-hour day. But as workers increasingly feel a
need to adjust their work schedules to accommodate family activities, desired
leisure time, or the work patterns of a spouse, the old overtime practice is too
rigid. Some workers would prefer to work overtime on some days and receive time
off rather than cash for the extra hours.
The problem is that antiquated wage laws prevent workers from trading overtime
earnings for comparable time off-a practice known as "comp time" that is
becoming increasingly common in public-employee workplaces. Union leadership
(but not so much rank-and-file workers themselves) oppose the adoption of any
laws that would grant this time option because they fear employers will abuse
the system to avoid paying overtime wages altogether. The 1964 Michigan minimum
wage law sets minimum wage and overtime standards for many hourly employees not
covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Under these federal and
state laws, employees must be paid in cash for overtime even though many would
prefer the option of cashing in this pay for equivalent time off.16
Michigan's representatives in Washington can work to make the necessary changes
at the federal level, but state legislators can act to extend the comp-time
option to many workers right now. Today, there are more working, single parents
and dual-income families than ever before. Especially for women in dual-earner
and single-headed households, the comp-time option would provide greater
Comp time doesn't present a radical, untried idea. For many years, federal,
state, and local governments have granted comp-time options allowing their
employees trouble-free comp-time arrangements for leisure, family needs, or
continuing education.17 It's time that employees in the private sector enjoyed
the same benefits public-sector employees already enjoy.
Granting Michigan workers more flexibility in their work schedules by
recognizing their preference for comp time is a progressive, pro-worker,
family-friendly reform whose time has come.
26. Amend the Public Employment Relations Act to recognize the unconditional
and immediate right of public-sector employees to resign their union
Employees in the private sector have an unconditional right to resign from union
membership at any time. A line of U.S. Supreme Court cases recognizes this right
as essential to preserving the integrity of the First Amendment's guarantees of
free speech and free association. As a result, private-sector union
constitutions and bylaws that limit the timing of an employee's resignation from
the union are unconstitutional. Additionally, it is a violation of a union's
duty of fair representation under the National Labor Relations Act to refuse to
honor an individual's unconditional withdrawal from the union.
Michigan's Public Employment Relations Act (PERA), which governs public-sector
labor relations in the state, provides an option to government employees who are
exclusively represented: They may either become members of a union, or else they
decline union membership and become nonmember "agency fee payers."18 But some
Michigan public employee unions place limitations-such as time-limited "window
periods"-on the right of union members to resign. Unfortunately, PERA as written
does not protect an employee's unconditional right to resign, contrary to
federal labor law regarding the individual's First Amendment right of free
association. The Legislature could better protect government employees' rights
by amending PERA to include a clause specifically prohibiting any unreasonable
restrictions on any government employee's right to resign from his union.
27. Permit employees to vote on compulsory support clauses.
Compulsory support clauses are provisions in agreements between employers and
unions that obligate employees to either join a union and pay union dues or else
refrain from joining but pay agency fees, which are usually an amount equivalent
to the dues of a full union member. Compulsory support clauses are the primary
source of funding for unions, and they carry the force of law-so union
negotiators will routinely sacrifice employees' economic benefits for the legal
right to compel every employee to pay dues or fees. Unfortunately, employers
often agree to a compulsory support clause, regarding it as a throwaway
concession to the union. Ultimately, however, it is employees who pay in the
form of reduced compensation.
An amendment to Michigan's Public Employment Relations Act (PERA) requiring
prior employee approval-by way of a majority vote on the compulsory support
clause-would give employees the ability to accept or reject an obligation to pay
dues or fees before such an obligation is included in the contract and becomes
The Legislature also should amend PERA to include a provision allowing for a
"deauthorization" vote in unionized government workplaces where a specified
number of employees presents a petition to the Public Employee Relations Board
asking for such a vote. Deauthorization is a procedure whereby employees remove
their union's legal ability to coercively extract fees; it in effect repeals a
contract's compulsory support clause. If a majority of employees voting
supported deauthorization, the compulsory support clause would be removed but
the rest of the contract would remain in force, and the union would retain its
exclusive bargaining rights.
The inherently abusive nature of the compulsory support clause is a ripe
opportunity for employee-friendly labor reform. An amendment to PERA requiring
employee approval for compulsory support clauses, as well as the option of
deauthorization, would do much to promote democracy and fairness in the
28. Amend the Public Employment Relations Act to require employee
ratification of union contracts for public-sector employees.
Some unions in Michigan allow for an employee ratification vote of negotiated
contracts, but employee ratification is by no means a uniform practice, nor is
it legally required. Without such ratification procedures, union officials may
feel free to trade direct employee benefits-such as wage increases-for items
that benefit union institutional interests, such as paid time off for union
officials or free office space.
Even those unions that do provide for employee contract ratification do not
necessarily require a secret-ballot vote. Public votes mean that union officials
can keep an eye on any members who vote the "wrong" way on a contract.
As employee representative, a union has an ethical obligation to advance the
interests of its members, not merely its own institutional interests.
Unfortunately, Michigan's Public Employment Relations Act (PERA) as written does
not adequately hold public-sector unions accountable to this standard.
Accordingly, the Legislature should amend PERA to require all public-sector
unions in Michigan to hold secret-ballot ratification votes, allowing all
employees in a bargaining unit the opportunity to accept or reject the
collective bargaining agreement their union has bargained for them. The PERA
amendment should provide that each bargaining unit employee-regardless of his
union membership status-may vote on the acceptance of any contract offer
submitted by the employer, including collective bargaining agreements that
affect wages, benefits, and working conditions.
29. Require the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) to
investigate the merits of unfair labor practice charges filed by employees.
Existing administrative procedures for pursuing unfair labor practice charges
place an insurmountable burden on individual employees attempting to enforce
their rights through the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC). MERC
presently does not investigate the merits of an unfair labor practice charge
before issuing a complaint-it is the charging party's responsibility to gather
sufficient facts, affidavits, and other evidence in support of the charge.
Employees pressing charges with MERC usually do not have the benefit of counsel
and must conduct this investigation independently and at their own cost.
If the charge appears to state a claim, then a complaint issues and a formal
hearing occurs. Without counsel, however, employees in a hearing are left to
navigate a maze of unfamiliar formal procedures entirely on their own. Such a
prospect provides a significant disincentive for individuals employee who want
to enforce their rights against a union or employer through MERC.
Unsurprisingly, relatively few employees attempt to enforce their rights this
MERC should be accessible to unions, employers, and individual employees alike.
Accordingly, the Legislature should amend the Public Employment Relations Act to
authorize MERC to investigate charges and prosecute complaints on behalf of
individual employees. A MERC attorney should investigate charges as they are
filed, taking affidavits from the charging party and relevant witnesses. He
should then determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that the law
has been broken and if so, a complaint should issue. Upon issuance of a
complaint, the case should be assigned to a MERC trial attorney, who would
prosecute the case on behalf of the employee.