The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 17, 2013

Supreme Court solicits Solicitor’s advice on RTW law

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING – There has been just a little movement in the Michigan Supreme Court regarding the state’s new right-to-work law.

On May 3 the state’s high court asked state Solicitor General John Bursch to offer an opinion – on whether the court should offer an advisory opinion indicating if the Supremes should immediately take up Snyder’s request for them to review the new RTW law.

Snyder wants the Supreme Court’s review of RTW to determine two potential legal questions that are in question under the law:

  • Whether the public sector right-to-work law applies to 35,000 unionized state workers. Historically the Michigan Civil Service Commission has had autonomy to negotiate wages, benefits and working conditions with labor unions. “This is a very time-sensitive question,” Snyder wrote to the court in January. “It is essential that all parties to the negotiations know definitively whether the new contracts must comply with Public Act 349 before those negotiations commence roughly five months from now.”
  • Whether the new right-to-work laws violate the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which allows equal protection to all under the law. Snyder acknowledged in his letter that “the legislation does not apply to all employees in public or private sector bargaining units.” Police and firefighters were exempted from the RTW law, critics say that was because they’re often GOP supporters.

Snyder is taking the legal questions directly to the Supreme Court in a blatant attempt to circumvent any potential holds on the RTW law by lower courts that could be more sympathetic to organized labor.

According to the MIRS News Service, the Supreme Court asked Bursch to file a brief within 35 days expressing his views on the following:

  • "Why prompt resolution of the constitutional question regarding application to the Civil Service Commission is necessary to guide the State Employer in its fall contract negotiations with civil service employees;”
  • “Why this matter warrants this Court's present intervention when the RTW legislation exclusively granted original jurisdiction over any action challenging to the Court of Appeals;”
  • “Given that there are adversarial proceedings already pending in several courts, and in light of the non-precedential nature of an advisory opinion, how Michigan Supreme Court intervention in the absence of an actual case and controversy would necessarily aid in resolution of the issues presented rather than produce confusion and delay;”
  • “And the value of an advisory opinion from this Court addressing federal equal protection issues since federal courts are not bound by state court determinations on federal constitutional issues.”

Two justices disagreed with the majority, and said they could handle the RTW questions in-house.

Rushed through the lame duck session of the Legislature last December, legal scholars on both sides of the aisle have found these and other potential legal land mines resulting from the law’s passage.

Separately, a group of unions have filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the law because state lawmakers allegedly violated the Open Meetings Act. On April 3, an Ingham County Circuit Court judge denied the state's motion to dismiss the case for lack of merit or improper jurisdiction.