Michigan ‘Right to Work’ Law Covers State Workers

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By Nora Macaluso

July 29 — Michigan's “right-to-work” law covers state employees because the state Civil Service Commission lacks the “constitutional authority” to compel civil service employees to pay union dues or fees, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled 4-3 on July 29.

The United Auto Workers and other unions representing public employees sued the state, arguing that the 2012 law—which prohibits employers and unions from requiring union dues or agency fees as a condition of employment—didn't apply to government workers because the Civil Service Commission controls their conditions of employment.

The court said that while the commission has authority over state workers' “rates of compensation, conditions of employment and grievance procedures,” it lacks the power to “tax or appropriate,” and therefore can't impose “mandatory agency shop fees” on state workers. That power belongs to the legislature, the court said in an opinion authored by Chief Justice Robert Young.

The commission has a “narrow and highly distinctive power of appropriation,” as the Michigan Constitution gives it the power to increase state workers' compensation rates by using funds from the state budget, the court said. It found that requiring union fees falls outside that authority.

Justices Stephen J. Markman, Brian K. Zahra and David F. Viviano joined in the majority opinion.

Dissenters Say Union Fees Aren't Appropriations

The three dissenters—Justices Mary Beth Kelly, Bridget McCormack and Richard Bernstein—argued that union fees aren't a “tax or appropriation,” since they don't fund the Civil Service Commission, but are paid directly to unions in order to fund costs associated with representation of bargaining units.

A collective bargaining agreement with an agency fee requirement “defines the relationship between an employee and his or her exclusive representative,” and the legislature lacks the power to override such a rule, they said in a dissenting opinion authored by Kelly.

The ruling affirms an August 2013 Michigan Court of Appeals decision, which held that the right-to-work law was constitutional.

It also comes as unions and the state begin negotiations on new contracts to replace agreements expiring at the end of 2015. Officials at the UAW, which represents some 17,000 state employees, couldn't be reached for comment July 29.

The state supreme court ruled the same day in a separate case that a Michigan law requiring state employees who receive pensions to contribute 4 percent of their salaries to pay for the plans is constitutional.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nora Macaluso in Lansing, Mich., at nmacaluso@bna.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

Text of the ruling is available at http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/r?Open=smgk-9yvu2l.