The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 19, 2013

Judge gives green light for lawsuit challenging RTW

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor



A union-backed lawsuit challenging Michigan’s right-to-work law because it was passed in violation of state and federal open government laws can go on as scheduled, an Ingham County Circuit judge ruled April 3.

The ACLU and a coalition of labor unions, including the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council and the Michigan Education Association (MEA), filed the lawsuit, claiming that Michigan lawmakers violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act, the state Constitution and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The basis of the court action stemmed from the closing of the state Capitol as the state Legislature debated and adopted right-to-work legislation on Dec. 6.

Judge William Collette ruled against Attorney General Bill Schuette’s motion to dismiss the case. But with his ruling Collette said the unions face an “uphill battle” to prove the Open Meetings Act was violated.

“Passing right-to-work was biggest, most controversial piece of legislation that has come through Lansing in years, and Republicans passed it behind closed doors without a bit of public input,” said Patrick Devlin, secretary treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. “Now, at least we’re going to have our day in court to expose some of what happened during that process.”

Gov. Rick Snyder signed the RTW legislation on Dec. 11. The law took effect March 28.

“By allowing state police to block citizens from entering the Capitol, Lansing politicians not only violated the basic American principles of open and transparent government, they also violated specific state and federal laws designed to protect the rights of citizens,” MEA President Steven Cook said when the lawsuit was filed. “We’re confident the courts will agree that the Legislature’s actions on the afternoon of Dec. 6 constituted a clear violation of the Open Meetings Act and should be invalidated.”

The Capitol was shut down by State Police for about four hours as the Legislature debated the right-to-work measure, saying the closure was for “safety reasons.” GOP legislative leaders disavowed involvement in making the call to lock out demonstrators and protestors from the building.

Plaintiff attorney Michael Pitt said witnessses have produced photographs showing empty hallways inside the Capitol, while hundreds of protestors were locked out during the legislative debate.

The ACLU’s Kary Moss told Mlive: “There was both a technical and a spiritual violation of this important law that requires there to be a significant amount of transparency in the government decision making process. Michigan citizens were deprived.”

The Michigan Open Meetings Act requires that “(a)ll decisions of a public body shall be made at a meeting open to the public.” It also states that a “decision made by a public body may be invalidated if the public body has not complied” with the act.

The lawsuit will allow the deposition of Republican lawmakers and the State Police. Republican staffers are also expected to be questioned if they were ordered to arrive early to take up public seats in the gallery, crowding out RTW supporters.

Supporters of the lawsuit asked Collette to move the case forward, with the ACLU’s Kary Moss telling MLive on Monday, “There was both a technical and a spiritual violation of this important law that requires there to be a significant amount of transparency in the government decision making process. Michigan citizens were deprived.”

The Michigan Open Meetings Act requires that “(a)ll decisions of a public body shall be made at a meeting open to the public.” It also states that a “decision made by a public body may be invalidated if the public body has not complied” with the act.