Our Editorial: Taxpayers win with worker rule change

The Detroit News

Public employee unions are howling about Civil Service Commission rule changes that will make the state workforce operate more like those in the public sector. But this is a good deal for taxpayers and conscientious employees, and should result in better government performance.

This is hardly the “Draconian” anti-worker move it’s being depicted by the unions.

Many state employees enjoy two layers of protection — union membership and civil service rules — that make it difficult to hold them accountable and implement workplace efficiencies.

That played out during the Flint water crisis. State employees deep inside the bureaucracy whose incompetence contributed to the slow response to the lead-poisoned water were shielded from consequences.

What the Civil Service Commission did in this latest action is to install a small measure of reward-for-performance into the system.

After new contracts are negotiated next year, union seniority will no longer determine who gets to bump or transfer into other jobs. Those decisions will be based on merit and results.

The state will have the ability to replace seniority pay hikes with performance-based raises, providing a direct reward for good work.

Union members will not have their dues automatically deducted by the state; they’ll be able to choose whether they want to financially support the union.

And stricter limits will be placed on the number of officers who work full time for the union but are paid for by state taxpayers.

The biggest objection unions have to the change is that the state will be able to amend a labor contract mid-term when faced with a budget emergency, as declared by the governor. The Civil Service Commission can enact a pay freeze or even an across-the-board pay cut and negate negotiated pay raises.

That’s a tough one for unions to swallow. But it is a reality in the private sector, where emergency cuts in the payroll are enacted to deal with a crisis.

Employees retain their right to collectively bargain wages and working conditions. What they lose is the ability to control the workplace, and guarantee a reward for their members regardless of how well they do their jobs.

Detaching pay from performance breeds an atmosphere in which there is little incentive to produce the best results. That cheats taxpayers.

Union members are not left vulnerable by this common sense change. They still have more than adequate protections against wrongful dismissal and mistreatment on the job.

Those employees who embrace the new performance-based system as an opportunity to advance on the strength of their own skills will do just fine.

Those who don’t will face the same consequences as shirkers who are not on the taxpayers’ dime.