To deal effectively with collective bargaining issues, school board members and other citizens should understand a few basic principles. The purpose of this section is to explain these basic principles and show how they affect the union/school district relationship.

Collective bargaining topics fall into one of three legal categories: mandatory, permissive, and prohibited. Under PERA, public employers are obligated to bargain with the employees' representative over only those subjects which are deemed mandatory, such as work-rules, seniority and promotion, and grievance procedures.

The collective bargaining agreements in many Michigan school districts contain language which exceeds the scope of these mandatory subjects. Nonmandatory, or "permissive," topics of bargaining may still be bargained, but the school board's only legal responsibility consists of carrying out mandated statutory obligations.

School districts are not required to bargain over every topic presented in union proposals, and there is also no requirement that compels either party to agree to a proposal or make a concession.

The Michigan Supreme Court explains the legal obligation, or "duty," to bargain this way:

The primary obligation placed upon the parties in a collective bargaining setting is to meet and confer in good faith. The exact meaning of the duty to bargain in good faith has not been rigidly defined in the case law. Rather, the courts look to the overall conduct of a party to determine if it has actively engaged in the bargaining process with an open mind and a sincere desire to reach an agreement. [Citations omitted.] The law does not mandate that the parties ultimately reach agreement, nor does it dictate the substance of the terms on which the parties manifest such an attitude and conduct that will be conducive to reaching an agreement. 18

In other words, school districts are not required to bargain over every topic presented in union proposals, and there is also no requirement that compels either party to agree to a proposal or make a concession. The obligation to bargain imposed by PERA on public employers and bargaining representatives is met when the parties bargain in good faith over the mandatory subjects defined by statute and case law.

The three legal categories of collective bargaining topics are discussed in more detail below.