The ruling, a major victory for organized labor, overturned a Republican-backed state law adopted last July that made it illegal for the State of Michigan, cities, townships, counties, school boards and universities in Michigan to enter into project labor agreements on taxpayer-financed construction projects.
There were two developments in the case from last month. On March 6, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed an appeal of the ruling with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. On March 30, Schuette filed a motion for a stay of the ruling before Judge Roberts – essentially asking the judge to suspend her own ruling because of purported financial harm that would be done to the state.
“It’s a counterintuitive argument,” said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council attorney John Canzano, who argued the case before Judge Roberts. He said the State of Michigan is essentially arguing that it is being harmed financially by the ruling, even though the judge has already said that the state is not being harmed.
“The building trades were suing to overturn the law because we were being harmed financially,” Canzano said. “If the state or a local unit of government doesn’t want to enter into a PLA, they don’t have to. No one is forcing them to do anything. I really don’t think the judge is going to issue a stay.”
Canzano said Roberts’ ruling on the stay request would likely take at least a month, and the Appeals Court ruling would likely take many months.
Roberts’ original ruling striking down Michigan’s “Fair and Open Competition in Governmental Construction Act” (Public Act 98, 2011) said that the law “impermissibly interferes with the comprehensive regulatory scheme” established by the National Labor Relations Act. In other words, it violates federal labor law.
The judge’s ruling essentially turns back the clock on state law, which now permits local project labor agreements. Following Judge Roberts’ ruling, Wayne State University lifted its ban on PLAs.Project labor agreements are generally sought by property owners (or municipal officials or school boards) and the construction contractors they hire. The agreements with the construction labor force can vary from project to project, but generally establish for the duration of the project, wage rates, hours, and usually prohibit strikes or lockouts. The agreements can also include language that spells out standards for safety or skills training for workers, as well as drug and alcohol testing requirements.