The following opinion is presented on-line for informational use only and does not replace the official version. (Mich Dept of Attorney General Web Site -



Opinion No. 5553

September 5, 1979


Appropriate collective bargaining unit


Appropriate collective bargaining unit


Collective bargaining with court employees


Collective bargaining with employees of the county

The probate court and the district court respectively are the 'public employers' of their employees.

The county board of commissioners is the 'public employer' of county employees other than court employees and employees of the county board of road commissioners and contract bargaining with collective bargaining agents of these employees is the responsibility of the county board of commissioners and not the responsibility of department heads of the county.

Honorable Loren S. Armbruster

State Representative

The Capitol

Lansing, Michigan 48909

You have requested an opinion regarding certain aspects of collective bargaining involving Tuscola County and public employees in that county.

The facts that you have provided may be summarized as follows. Collective bargaining agreements have previously been entered into between the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners, as employer, and a union representing a bargaining unit of employees of most county departments, including the probate court. District court employees comprise a distinct bargaining unit and the probate judge asserts that he, and not the county, is deemed to be the 'employer' of that court's staff employees, so that the responsibility for negotiating a new contract with those employees is his and not the county board of commissioners'. This assertion has raised a concern that each county department head might be deemed to be the 'employer' in that department, with attendant negotiating responsibilities.

The questions to be answered are:

1. What entity is the 'public employer' of staff employees of courts?

2. What entity is the 'public employer' of the employees of a county?

The public employment relations act, 1947 PA 336 as amended by 1965 PA 379; MCLA 423.201 et seq; MSA 17.455(1) et seq, obligates a 'public employer' to 'bargaining collectively with the representatives of its employees' and authorizes a public employer 'to make and enter into collective bargaining agreements with such representatives.' MCLA 423.215; MSA 17.455(15). That act does not, however, define 'public employer'.

The first Michigan Supreme Court case involving court employees and the identity of their employer was Judges of the 74th Judicial District v Bay County, 385 Mich 710; 190 NW2d 219 (1971). There, the Court held that the judicial district, not the county or other district control unit, is the public employer of its court employees. The Court also held that district court employees were not the employees of the county, city or district control unit even though they are paid by the district control unit.

Livingston County v Livingston Circuit Judge, 393 Mich 265: 225 NW2d (1975), involved a collective bargaining agreement between a local judiciary and its employees to be tested in the Supreme Court. There, an agreement was reached by the 'Court System of Livingston County,' as a 'public employer,' and a union representing employees of the 'Court System.' The 'Court System' encompassed the circuit, probate, and district courts, and the bargaining unit included employees of those courts. No one challenged the appropriateness of the bargaining unit, but the Livingston County Board of Commissioners challenged the collective bargaining agreement. The Supreme Court affirmed the following procedures as proper in contract negotiations between courts and their employees: bargaining should occur between representatives of the courts and of their employees; the courts should invite a representative of the board of commissioners to initial bargaining sessions, not to actively bargain but to present relevant data regarding the county budget and information on county employee contracts; when the parties have arrived at a contract, a local judge should issue an administrative order implementing the contract and should submit the order to the Court Administrator for approval, pursuant to Supreme Court's Administrative Order No 1971-6, 386 Mich xxxix; following approval of the contract by the Court Administrator, a county board of commissioners which desires an adversary proceeding to test the reasonableness and necessity of a contract may have such review in an action for injunctive relief in the circuit court of the county in question.

Also instructive in the matter of appropriate bargaining procedures are those which culminated in the contract considered in Council No 23, Local 1905, AFSCME v Recorder's Court Judges, 399 Mich 1; 248 NW2d 220 (1976). There, a single contract was entered into involving as employers the Wayne County Board of Commissioners, the circuit and probate courts for that county, the Common Pleas Court, and the Recorder's Court. Each of the employers had designated as its bargaining representative the Wayne County Labor Relations Board. Each of the employers was a signatory to the contract which resulted from the negotiations. On appeal, no one challenged these procedures, nor did the Court comment upon them.

Therefore, in answer to the first question, it is my opinion that the probate court and the district court respectively are the 'public employers' of their employees.

Turning to the second question, in Wayne County Civil Service Commission v Board of Supervisors, 384 Mich 363; 184 NW2d 201 (1971), the Supreme Court dealt with the same issue and held that, with the exception of the Board of County Road Commissioners, the 'public employer' of the employees of Wayne County is the County Board of Commissioners.

It is, therefore, my opinion that the County Board of Commissioners is the 'public employer' of county employees other than court employees and employees of the County Board of Road Commissioners and contract bargaining with collective bargaining agents of these employees is the responsibility of the Board and not of the department heads of the county.

Frank J. Kelley

Attorney General