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Right-to-Work law update: Two important developments

August 22, 2013

Article courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

By Michael J. Burns  

In the past week, Michigan’s Right-to-Work laws figured prominently in two important developments.

In the first, the AFL-CIO labor union announced that it has targeted Michigan’s Governor Snyder, along with Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Ohio’s John Kaisich, Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, Florida’s Rick Scott and Maine’s Paul LaPage for defeat in the 2014 gubernatorial elections. In Michigan, Governor Snyder has not even announced his 2014 candidacy although he is expected to run.

The second development was that Michigan’s Court of Appeals upheld the Right-to-Work law that addresses public employees (Public Act 349). (Recall that two Right-to-Work laws were passed last December. They were nearly identical except that one targeted private-sector employees and the other the estimated 35,000 employees of state and local governments. Opposition groups sued to overturn both laws, but the suits brought against the private employer law were not as serious a threat as the lawsuit brought against the public employer law.)

As to the targeting of Gov. Snyder, the AFL-CIO stated that its election focus will be at the state level because that is where they think their constituents are most impacted. Given that 2014 will be an off-year for presidential politics, that strategy is logical and to be expected.

Should Governor Snyder be defeated at the polls, Right to Work will likely face an immediate repeal effort by the Democratic governor and organized labor.

The decision in the state Court of Appeals, UAW v. Green (COA docket No. 314781), was handed down last week by a three-judge panel. It held that the Michigan Right-to-Work Act, passed in the legislature and signed by Gov. Snyder, superseded the Michigan Civil Service Commission’s authority over public employees. The law forbids the state government, as an employer, from requiring non-union employees to pay an “agency fee” equal to the amount of union dues spent on collective bargaining services.

The majority opinion, signed by Judge Henry William Saad and Judge Pat Donofrio, concludes that the state Civil Service Commission’s authority under the Michigan constitution was not infringed on when the legislature enacted the law, and that the law “is a decision to further remove politics from public employment and to end all inquiry or debate about how public sector union fees are spent.” Mr. Saad wrote that while the Commission is constitutionally authorized, that fact “does not elevate it to the level of a fourth branch of government.”

The dissenting judge, Elizabeth Gleicher said the law “strips the CSC of its regulatory supremacy” and argued the commission had control over “all conditions of employment” for state employees through its constitutional mandate.

As of this writing, it is not known whether or not the decision will be appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

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