Michigan Unions Lose Right-to-Work Challenge

The state appeals court ruled 2 to 1 that the state's right-to-work law applies to 35,000 unionized state employees, rejecting a lawsuit filed by labor unions. The measure went to court after questions were raised because the Michigan Civil Service Commission, which sets compensation for state employees, has separate powers under the state constitution. The law prohibits forcing public and private workers to pay union dues or fees.
August 16, 2013

The nearly 36,000 unionized employees who work for the State of Michigan are subject to the new right-to-work law, meaning those employees can opt out of paying union dues when the next round of contracts take effect in January.

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the state’s new right-to-work law must cover civil service employees represented by unions. The coalition of state employee unions — which together represent at least 90 percent of the state’s unionized work force — filed suit in February challenging the constitutionality of one of Michigan’s two right-to-work laws: Public Act 349, which governs public employees.

They argued their work rules were covered by the Civil Service Commission and therefore are not subject to the new law.

The appeals court disagreed.

“Michigan case law fully supports the principle that the Legislature as the policy-making branch of government has the power to pass labor laws of general applicability that also apply to classified civil service employees,” Appeals Judges Henry Saad and Pat M. Donofrio wrote in their 21-page majority opinion. “For these reasons, we hold that (the right-to-work law) is constitutional as applied to classified civil service positions in Michigan.”

The right-to-work law, passed in the final frenzied days of the legislature’s lame-duck session in December, makes it illegal to require employees to contribute financially to a union as a condition of employment. The right-to-work battle was waged over a five-day period with no committee hearings or public input and inspired more than 10,000 people to descend on the Capitol to protest the impending law as the legislature passed it.