State appeals court says Michigan county can’t chop employee work hours to save money

March 12, 2014

govt blog 2May a Michigan county cut employee work hours in order to cut the budget?

The state Court of Appeals said no, in Wayne County v. AFSCME Council 25, 27 MPER 43 (Mich. Ct. App. 2014, unpublished).

The case arose after the bargaining agreement between AFSCME and Wayne County expired and the parties began negotiations for a new contract.  Without telling the union, the county told workers they would be laid off for the entire day every Friday, or every other Friday for an unspecified length of time.

The union complained to MERC — the Michigan Employment Relations Commission — which found the county’s action violated the state’s Public Employment Relations Act.

Wayne County appealed, but the Michigan Court of Appeals sided with AFSCME.

(Westlaw users: Click here for more stories from the Michigan Public Employee Reporter.)

Although the expired contract allowed the county to lay off employees or “separate” them from employment, the appellate panel said here, the county did not actually lay off employees when it changed their work hours.

The appeals court said the employer’s unilateral reduction in work hours constituted an unfair practice.

“MERC [properly] determined that the CBA precluded the County from reducing the workweek in the guise of a layoff,” the panel ruled.  As part of the unfair practice remedies issued by the commission, the county was required to restore the prior workweek for employees.