News Release: Michigan's Public Employee Relations Act Undermines Democratic Principles and Adds to Cost of Government, According to New Mackinac Center Study

PERA gives union officials "an effective veto over elected officials"

For Immediate Release
Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009
Contact: Paul Kersey
Director of Labor Policy

MIDLAND - As the Michigan Legislature debates a proposal to overhaul government employee benefits and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing negotiates with city employee unions over wage and benefit concessions, the Mackinac Center today released an assessment of the state's government employee labor law and its consequences for local governments and residents. The report, "Michigan's Public Employee Relations Act: Public-Sector Labor Law and Its Consequences," finds that the law hamstrings local elected officials, undermines democratic principles and adds to the overall cost of government.

"The Public Employee Relations Act hasn't gotten much attention, despite the fact that it affects nearly every facet of operations for incorporated cities, townships and counties, as well as intermediate and local school districts," said Paul Kersey, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center. "Since countless government employees, from clerks to police officers to teachers, are covered by its provisions, PERA has added hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of government in Michigan."

Two high-profile political battles illustrate PERA's impact. In Lansing, the Legislature is considering a bill that would move all local government employees, including teachers, into a state-run health insurance plan. Much of the opposition to the proposal comes from government employee unions that would lose the power to bargain collectively over these benefits. In Detroit, Mayor Bing is attempting to convince city unions to accept wage cuts in order to stave off a municipal bankruptcy. Both of these conflicts arise against the backdrop of PERA's rules directing how local officials bargain with government employee unions.

"The work of government employees is the work of government itself, so when local officials negotiate a contract with union officials, it affects how governments operate," said Kersey. "By mandating negotiations, PERA has given union officials an effective veto over elected officials. Meanwhile, the unions themselves have become more and more ideological. The result is a permanent, taxpayer-funded lobby for big government."

Kersey's Policy Brief recommends that PERA be repealed or, at a minimum, rewritten. It can be found at