Faced with distressed state budgets and lower revenue, many governors and state legislatures have focused on the collective bargaining rights of public employees as a way to control expenses. Legislation that would limit such rights has reportedly been introduced in at least 22 states. In general, the sponsors of such legislation contend that unionized state and local employees enjoy unsustainable salaries and benefits as a result of collective bargaining.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 26.8% of all federal employees are members of a union. A slightly higher percentage of state employees—31.1%—are union members. At the local government level, 42.3% of employees are union members. Although all of these employees engage in some form of collective bargaining through their unions, the scope of such bargaining is generally different for federal and state and local workers. In addition, because the collective bargaining rights of state and local employees are defined by state law, other variations in bargaining may exist among these workers. Subjects that are negotiable in one state, for example, may not be negotiable in another state.
This report examines the collective bargaining rights of federal, state, and local workers. The report also discusses the constitutional concerns that may be raised by state legislation that attempts to invalidate existing collective bargaining agreements. In Michigan, the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act (“Fiscal Accountability Act”) was adopted on March 16, 2011. Under the Fiscal Accountability Act, the governor may appoint an emergency manager if he determines that a local government financial emergency exists. The emergency manager would have broad powers to rectify the financial emergency, including the ability to reject, modify, or terminate one or more terms and conditions of an existing collective bargaining agreement. If the emergency manager were to reject, modify, or terminate one or more terms and conditions of an existing agreement, constitutional concerns would likely be raised under the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits a state from passing any law “impairing the Obligation of Contracts.”