LANSING, MI — Michigan’s new right-to-work law should not apply to roughly 35,000 unionized state employees, according to a lawsuit filed last week by a coalition of labor unions.
The civil complaint, filed Thursday with the Michigan Court of Appeals, seeks a formal declaration that the law infringes upon the right of the Michigan Civil Service Commission to regulate conditions of employment for state employees, as granted by the state constitution.
“I think it’s pretty cut and dry,” said Michael Cavanaugh, an attorney working the case for the Michigan State Employees Association AFSCME Local 5. “There’s a long history of Michigan courts indicating that the Civil Service Commission has exclusive rights to oversee collective bargaining agreements on behalf of state employees.”
Other plaintiffs in the case include the United Auto Workers, Michigan Corrections Organization, Michigan Public Employees and Michigan State Employees Association. Combined, they represent more than 31,000 of the state employees.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Attorney General Bill Schuette and three members of the Michigan Employment Relations Commission — Nino Green, Edward Callaghan and Bob LaBrant — are named as defendants.
Snyder in December signed into law two separate bills prohibiting the negotiation of public and private employee contracts that require union dues or service fees as a condition of employment. Days later, Schuette told reporters that right-to-work does apply to state employees and will withstand lawsuits.
“I expect the Civil Service Commission to follow the law,” Schuette said at the time.
Snyder, anticipating legal challenges, last month asked the Michigan Supreme Court to weigh in on the constitutionality of the act governing public employees and whether state civil service contracts must comply. The court has not yet responded to the governor’s request and is not required to do so.
“This is a very time-sensitive question,” Snyder wrote in a letter to Chief Justice Robert Young Jr., noting that current collective bargaining agreements for state employees expire at the end of this year. “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.”
The state employee lawsuit is the latest in a series of complaints over Michigan’s new right-to-work law.
Earlier this month, the Michigan AFL-CIO and labor partners filed a suit seeking to block the law on the grounds that it conflicts with federal labor statutes in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The ACLU of Michigan filed a suit late last month asking a judge to strike down the law, alleging that the state violated the Open Meetings Act by closing the Capitol to new visitors for several hours on the same day lawmakers approved enabling bills.