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Judge puts brakes on GOP scheme to halt union dues deductions from company payrolls

Date Posted: July 14 2016

LANSING – Michigan's unions have won a preliminary injunction blocking the state from enforcing a new payroll deduction law that deals with political fundraising. The federal judge's July 1 ruling halts the enforcement of the state's Public Act 269, adopted late last year, which she said was a form of "viewpoint discrimination."

Unions argued that the law illegally allows companies to make employee payroll deductions for contributions to corporate political action committees, while banning payroll deductions for union members’ contributions to their union’s PACs. U.S. District Court Judge Linda V. Parker agreed with the unions' position that the law violates the First Amendment free speech rights as well as the Contract Clause, which protects existing collective bargaining agreements.

“In short, PA 269 cannot survive strict scrutiny and thus the Court finds a strong likelihood that Plaintiffs will prevail on their claim that the statute effectuates viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment,” wrote Judge Parker in her ruling. “The Court concludes that Plaintiffs are likely to establish that PA 269 violates the Contract Clause.”

The judge, an appointee of President Obama, concluded that the law unconstitutionally favored corporations and discriminated against unions in their political expression. Parker said the law does “not apply evenhandedly” because it allows a company to make employee payroll deductions for contributions to nonprofit groups where it has membership, such as the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, but not for a union. "And that nonprofit could be chamber of commerce, go figure!" said Michigan labor attorney John Tesija. Chambers of commerce are always pro-business and frequently anti-union.

Judge Parker also wrote: "The Court finds that by enacting PA 269, Michigan has placed an obstacle — bolstered by the threat of a felony charge — in the path of organizations’ and employees’ efforts to solicit and raise funds necessary to engage in political speech.”

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

“We’re very pleased with the court’s ruling in this case,” said Andy Nickelhoff, attorney for the Michigan AFL-CIO. “This is a big win for working people. The judge’s ruling halts the unfair and unequal treatment of union members under PA 269, and protects the constitutional rights of union members to speak up together and participate in our elections.”

The law was adopted mostly along party lines, with Republicans supporting and Democrats against.

The free-market Michigan Freedom Fund told MIRS News Service that "President Obama's district court judge unsurprisingly sided with Big Labor," and that the ruling harmed the "will of the people by allowing an unelected judge to become a super-legislature to decide public policy." They vowed to appeal.

Dems said the law was a solution looking for a problem.  “It’s just the latest example of Republicans doing everything they can to expand the influence of corporations at the expense of everyone else,” said House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, when the law was adopted.

Public Act 269 was part of a flurry of anti-labor legislation that was passed in the lame-duck legislation session at the end of 2015, which Dems said led to the passage of poorly written legislation that likely wouldn't hold up to judicial scrutiny.

Another section of law adopted at that time was controversial and dealt with how schools, local governments and agencies like police and librarians could spread the word about local ballot questions, like proposed millage hikes, before an election. Local officials charged that state GOP lawmakers applied time limitations on disseminating information to voters – essentially a gag order that assumes by default that local officials would lie about their intentions. A preliminary injunction was previously issued on that law as well.