Michigan’s PERA statute requires elected school boards to bargain with employees collectively and in good faith over wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment. This duty extends only to those situations where employees have chosen by majority vote to be recognized collectively, which is the case in virtually every Michigan school district. Accordingly, nearly every management decision impacting the employment concerns of school employees needs to be determined in the collective bargaining framework.
Sandra Feeley Myrand: "It is critical that boards, superintendents and district administrators understand and use the law, where appropriate. The ability to impose contract elements has existed for years, and yet until these last couple of years, there are very few school districts that have utilized that option. Once again, I see the ability to impose in light of balance. Wielding too much power diminishes the board’s and superintendent’s ability to lead; not considering and exercising options that are available and appropriate can lead to powerlessness."
Lynn Parrish: "[Board members] need to determine what they can afford and what’s appropriate in their community. They’re elected officials; they have to translate community standards. And they have to balance the dollars available to promote student education against the point to which they will or will not go in potentially alienating their union. That’s the balancing act."
PERA sets forth a number of unfair labor practices that a school board is barred from pursuing. It is unlawful for a public employer or its officers or agents to do the following:
"interfere with public employees in their exercise of their Section 9 [organizing and collective bargaining] rights;
dominate or interfere with the formation or administration of any labor organization;
discriminate in regard to hiring, firing, terms, or conditions of employment in order to encourage or discourage employee participation in a labor organization;
discriminate against an employee for testifying or initiating a proceeding under PERA; and
refuse to bargain with the employee bargaining representative."
As a rule, unions are not hesitant to file unfair labor practice charges against school boards. Contentious negotiations in Holland in 2005 led to two unfair labor practice charges. The first involved a claim by the Holland Education Association that a letter allegedly sent by the school board to the district’s teachers constituted illegal direct dealing with union members. The second charge arose out of the HEA’s alleged inability to obtain financial information.
It must be kept in mind that many issues do not directly impact employees, but instead relate to matters of management that the school board is entitled to handle without bargaining. The law mandates that schools negotiate wages and conditions of employment, but it does not require bargaining for general education policy.
Michigan’s labor law does not cover every matter that in some way involves employees or a collective bargaining agreement. Some such matters may well violate other laws, but they are not PERA issues.
"PERA does not prohibit all types of discrimination or unfair treatment, nor is the [Michigan Employment Relations] Commission charged with interpreting the collective bargaining agreement to determine whether its provisions were followed. Absent an allegation that the Employer interfered with, restrained, coerced or retaliated against Charging Party because he engaged in conduct protected by Section 9 of PERA [governing labor organization and bargaining], the Commission is prohibited from making a judgment on the merits or fairness of the Employer’s action."
When an employer is actually found to have committed an unfair labor practice, remedies may include a cease-and-desist order and reinstatement of an unlawfully discharged employee, often with back pay.
Donald Wheaton: "A school board’s role is to set the parameters for the district’s position in the negotiations and to work closely with its bargaining team to refine the parameters and consider offers and counteroffers from the bargaining units. There’s always a danger on both sides — on the one hand, micromanaging negotiations or any aspect of the school’s day-to-day business, and, on the other hand, being a doormat for a union or an administration. It’s a school board member’s responsibility to bear in mind that you are there to speak for the community that has elected you. While you need to be responsive to the concerns and needs of the community, you must always bear in mind what’s best for the kids."