The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 25, 2014

Federal judge sustains some key union issues with new RTW law

By The Building Tradesman

A federal judge earlier this month brought a mixed ruling for supporters and detractors of the state’s right-to-work law.

A ruling released April 1 by federal Judge Stephen Murphy was made in response to a motion by the State of Michigan to dismiss a union-backed lawsuit, which contended that the state Legislature overstepped its authority to regulate labor relations and violated the federal National Labor Relations Act when the state’s right-to-work law was adopted in December 2012.

An analysis by management attorneys Nemeth Law said Judge Murphy “ultimately decided that the NLRA preempted three specific provisions,” of Michigan’s right-to-work law, “and thus, the union had a viable claim with respect to each provision.”

The three areas of the new Michigan right-to-work law held up for scrutiny by the judge all involved the exclusion of provisions tying the state law to union bargaining agreements, and the right to take or refrain from concerted actions. The judge also ruled that the new state RTW law should, but doesn’t, apply equally to cases where intimidation, or unlawful threats over union actions might be involved.

“An immediately apparent problem with Michigan’s statute is the absence of any language tying the exercise of the employee rights to conditions of employment,” Judge Murphy wrote. “By its plain language, Section 14(b) permits states to prohibit only union-security agreements; it does not give states a broad power to guarantee employees a range of labor rights.”

The judge continued: “This parallel language confirms that Michigan has legislated, or at the very least arguably legislated, outside the boundaries of Section 14(b) by authorizing its officials and courts to manage labor relations.”

But the judge dismissed the unions’ challenge to a right-to-work provision that prohibits requiring an employee to pay money to a labor organization.

Whether those discrepancies will be enough to overturn the state’s RTW law remains to be seen in future court action.

Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, issued the following statement in response to Judge Murphy’s ruling: “Fortunately, the court dismissed the union lawyers’ challenges to the core provisions of Michigan’s Right to Work law and Michigan workers will continue to have the Right to Work without having to pay dues to an unwanted union.”

But the labor community liked what it heard.

“We think this is a significant victory,” said Andrew Nickelhoff to Crain’s Detroit Business. He’s an attorney handling the case for labor groups including the Michigan AFL-CIO. “There are enough invalid and preempted provisions in the Right to Work law that the entire law should be struck down.”