The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, February 14, 2014

Supreme Court to take up RTW appeal for Michigan's public workers

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING – The Michigan Supreme Court on Jan. 30 agreed to hear testimony on whether public employees are covered by a state’s right-to-work law which was adopted in December 2012.

The court indicated it would review a 2-1 state appeals court ruling on Aug. 15 that agreed with Gov. Rick Snyder and majority Republicans in the state Legislature, who maintained that one of two RTW laws they adopted in December 2012 was intended to cover all state government employees.

Several unions representing the public workers say that the Michigan Constitution specifically sets up the state Civil Service Commission, not the Legislature, as the ultimate authority on collective bargaining matters.

“This governor has a history of violating the state constitution and ignoring the state civil service authority, and we’re hoping the court sees that,” said Ray Holman to theLansing State Journal. He’s the legislative liaison for United Auto Workers Local 6000, the largest state employee union in Michigan. “The state constitution is clear about that. These things have to go through the state civil service commission.”

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

This right-to-work case does not pertain to private workers, such as those in the building trades.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette is defending the RTW law in legal actions. Spokeswoman Joy Yearout said when the case went before the high court that 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.

The right-to-work law for public and private workers moved very quickly through the Legislature, without public debate, prompting Snyder himself a year ago to ask the state Supreme Court to rule on its legality. The state Supreme Court did not provide a schedule for when it would hear arguments on the case.

On July 5 the state Supreme Court rejected Snyder’s request for an advisory opinion on whether the state’s RTW law is in fact constitutional. “We are not persuaded that granting the request would be an appropriate exercise of the court’s discretion,” the court said unanimously. That action by the Supreme Court left the door open for labor unions, both public and private, to attack the law through the courts, which they are doing on a variety of fronts.