Thousands of Michigan state workers would be affected by proposed reforms every year

LANSING, MICH. - The Michigan Civil Service Commission meets at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and could be asked to consider a host of changes that would expand the commission's power over state workers and limit which issues over which state employee unions can negotiate.

A strong showing of state employees is expected at that meeting after union officials said the changes would negatively affect each of their nearly 35,000 members. 

Meanwhile, state Personnel Director Jan Winters, who first proposed the changes on Aug. 9, said the reforms would help overcome the current system's "significant limits to agencies' ability to organize, manage, and reward staff and to conduct operations efficiently and cost-effectively." 

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So, how often do these issues really come up? True, all of the unionized employees would lose the right to negotiate over these issues, but how many of the state's nearly 50,000 employees might be directly impacted by the issues themselves?

Here's a breakdown:

Layoffs and recalls

Winters wants to prohibit state-worker unions from negotiating staff assignment procedures, including how the state determines who gets laid off during job cuts and which laid-off employees get recalled back to work.

For example, under current contract terms, if the Michigan Department of Transportation eliminated a departmental analyst position, that employee might be able to move into an open analyst position in, say, the Attorney General's Office. If Winters' proposed changes are enacted, the laid off employee could only move into an open MDOT analyst slot — if there was a slot open.

The Civil Service Commission said it doesn't track how often such things happen statewide. State Journal archives detail about 180 layoffs over the state's last three fiscal years, but that wouldn't account for all of the minor position changes that happen across state government on a routine basis.

Departments are required to look for employees to recall before filling any open position; the statewide turnover rate is about 9.4%.

Overtime

Winters' proposal also would give the administration more control over how overtime is doled out. Currently, more-senior employees typically get first dibs on overtime. This issue comes up a lot. The state spent about $380 million on nearly 10 million hours of overtime pay over the last three years, according to the commission. 

Paid union time

Current contracts allow some state employees who serve in union positions to take paid time off to handle union business. Unions say this is an important benefit that allows union officials to respond quickly to workplace disputes, often helping to resolve situations before they turn into costly formal grievance proceedings. 

Different unions handle this differently, with some negotiating a specific number of "paid union leave" positions and others negotiating a "union leave bank" that multiple employees can tap into as needed. About 800 people used paid union leave time at least once last fiscal year, according to the Civil Service Commission.

Winters would severely curtail this, prohibiting unions from negotiating on this issue and granting "each recognized union paid leave for one employee’s full-time absence." 

There are six unions in state government, representing 10 bargaining groups.

Performance pay

Winters also would create a new "critical-position premium" pilot program so employees working in positions deemed critical to an agency's mission could get a little extra pay. Through existing performance bonus programs, the state has spent about $7 million since fall 2014, according to the commission. 

Winters would make performance pay systems a prohibited subject of bargaining. 

Union officials worry such a clause could bar them from negotiating special bonus programs to attract people into hard-to-fill positions — as happened recently for nurses at state hospitals — and could be used to stop them from negotiating over other benefits such as hazard pay for workers in dangerous jobs.

'Rules of general applicability'

Perhaps most consequentially, Winters asked the commission to reinstate "rules of general applicability," giving the commission power to impose changes on all state employees, even if those changes conflict with existing union contract terms. 

The commission had that power between 1998 and 2007, but never used it. In fact, commissioners were asked only once in those years to implement rules of general applicability, and voted no. Commissioners then repealed the clause, calling it harmful to good-faith bargaining.

If such rules were currently in place, all of Winters' proposed reforms could go into effect immediately if commissioners approved them.  As it is, most wouldn't take effect until current contracts expire on Jan. 1, 2019.

What's next

WHAT: The Michigan Civil Service Commission meets and could be asked to consider proposed rule changes that would expand the commission's power over state workers and limit the number of issues over which state workers can negotiate

WHEN: 10 a.m. Wednesday

WHERE: Lower lover conference room, Capitol Commons Center, 400 S. Pine Street, Lansing 

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© 2017 Lansing State Journal


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