Challenges in Collective Bargaining

Recently, misinformation about changes to Michigan’s Public Employment Relations Act (PERA) have added complications to collective bargaining, with unwarranted and illegal restrictions being applied to labor organizations representing school administrators.

Enacted in 1965, PERA governs Michigan’s public-sector collective bargaining. In 2011, the legislature added eight prohibited subjects for bargaining, including among other items:

  • placement;
  • standards for layoff and recall; and
  • standards for discipline.

While the amendments apply to some educators, the statute clearly states the “bargaining restrictions apply only to teachers who are eligible for tenure,” which school administrators cannot acquire.

Typically, administrator groups are able to navigate bargaining through shared interest bargaining, building rather than destroying relationships. Unfortunately, the lack of good information and a plethora of bad advice have caused some school superintendents to distort the new statutes, creating unnecessary and unlawful barriers that delay action and move some parties toward impasse.

Whether you live in or outside of Michigan, remembering the following tips when confronting a hostile or uninformed employer will work to your advantage:

  • It is lawful for parties to discuss prohibited subjects for bargaining and for you to engage your employer regarding why they want to apply inapplicable provisions of the law, in this case PERA, to administrators.
  • Presenting the law’s full text to your employer is crucial. Often a superintendent relies on a summary presented at a conference or circulated to an email list. Some employers have realized the extent of their mistake after reading the law.
  • Do not bend easily, as some employers—assuming they are better informed—will attempt to bully labor organizations. Be prepared to back up your refusal to agree to an improper demand with explanations about the law.

While changes like those to PERA in Michigan create obstacles for public school employees, collective bargaining is a crucial and valuable right that labor organizations must defend and support through well-informed persistency.