The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 06, 2016

State's unions challenge new rules on PAC contributions

By The Building Tradesman

DETROIT – Michigan labor unions filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on April 22 challenging Public Act 269, a law that prohibits a corporation from providing union payroll deductions earmarked for a political action committee, even if the company is reimbursed for the cost of the transaction.

However, labor unions maintain that the law does not apply equally to prohibiting employers from ending other employee payroll deductions, such as those that are funneled to a nonprofit organization. PA 269 bans businesses from collecting union PAC money from their employees if the business has its own PAC for which it collects money through an automatic deduction.

"Read the law... and the anti-union agenda is clear," said labor attorney John Tesija. "It's like right-to-work all over again." As we reported in January, in the last hours of the last legislative session of 2015, the bill suddenly morphed from a non-controversial 12-page quick-read into a 53-page short story that included GOP-friendly amendments to 10 different sections of Michigan's Campaign Finance Act.

The law, also known as Senate Bill 571, was passed late at night without a single committee hearing, and "clearly violates the free speech rights of union members wishing to participate in Michigan elections," said the Michigan AFL-CIO.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include: the Michigan State AFL-CIO; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 58; the Utility Workers Union of America, Local 223; George Horuczi, an employee of DTE Energy, and a member and officer of UWUA Local 223; the Michigan State Utility Workers Council; and William D. Chadwick, Jr., an employee of Consumers Energy, and a member of UWUA Local 338.

Unions assert: that PA 269 discriminates against union members by allowing corporations and their trade associations to collect PAC contributions through payroll deduction, while prohibiting payroll deduction for union PAC contributions. In addition, the unions say the law violates the First Amendment rights of union members by selectively suppressing political speech and association, which is a clear violation of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. They charge PA 269 also violates the Contract Clause, which protects existing collective bargaining agreements.

“This law is unfair, unconstitutional, and downright un-American,” said Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO. “It makes it easier for corporations and their super PACs to spend big money on our elections while silencing the voices of working people. We’re asking the court to do the right thing and protect the First Amendment rights of Michigan’s hardworking union members, so they can make their voices heard in Michigan’s elections.”

The legal action names Attorney General Bill Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson as defendants in their official capacities with the State of Michigan.

This lawsuit follows a separate lawsuit by local governments over a different part of the same law. Local government and school board officials object to a provision in PA 269 that prevents the spending of taxpayers dollars to educate voters within 60 days of an election, if that election would decide funding for, say, a library, school or police millage.

Tony Daunt of the Michigan Freedom Fund, which helped push SB 0571 through the Legislature, told the news service MIRS that the lawsuit wasn't surprising because "much like local government bureaucrats who believe they are entitled to use tax dollars to scare Michigan residents into voting for tax increases, big labor bosses don't like it when they are forced to play by the same rules as everyone else."

Tesija said the U.S. Constitution is clear on this matter. "The basic problem with this law is that there isn't equal protection under the law," Tesija said. "This is what you get when you pass 50 pages of legislation into law at 10 o'clock at night and lawmakers only have 10 minutes to review it."