The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, September 20, 2013

Supreme Court next stop for public unions in RTW case

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING – Unions representing more than 30,000 state workers continue to maintain that they are exempt from the state’s right-to-work law, and are appealing an Aug. 15 state Appeals Court decision that says otherwise.

The crux of the case: the Republican-led state Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder maintain that one of two RTW laws they adopted last December was intended to cover all state government employees. Several unions representing the workers maintain that the Michigan Constitution specifically sets up the state Civil Service Commission, not the Legislature, as the ultimate authority on collective bargaining matters. 

The majority opinion in last month’s 2-1 Court of Appeals ruling rejected the unions’ argument and found that the Civil Service Commission – which has performed those bargaining duties since the 1940s – was “unaccountable” in their ability to “strip power away from the people.”  

Attorneys representing the unions filed paperwork with the Michigan Supreme Court on Sept. 11, asking justices to review the Michigan Court of Appeals ruling. That appellate court ruling on RTW was made by two judges in the majority appointed by Republican governors, and one judge in the minority appointed by a Democratic governor.

“The Civil Service Commission in Michigan provides much needed protections for state workers by ensuring they are not unfairly impacted by the political whims of the legislature and the governor,” said Mel Grieshaber, executive director of the Michigan Corrections Organization, one of the unions affected by the ruling. “We believe that the bipartisan Commission – not conservative ideologues in the House or Senate – has sole authority under our state constitution to decide whether state employees are exempt from the so-called right to-work law. We hope the Supreme Court will act swiftly to take up the case and bring resolution that is consistent with the Michigan Constitution.”

State Attorney General Bill Schuette is defending the RTW law in legal actions. Spokeswoman Joy Yearout told Mlive she expects the state will prevail. “Michigan's Freedom to Work law is constitutional, and we are confident the Court of Appeals ruling will stand,” she said.

Michigan’s GOP lawmakers adopted two right-to-work laws last December, one covering public employees, one for the private sector. This ruling does not affect private sector workers.