Protesters march towards the steps of the state Capitol in Lansing to protest the signing of the right-to-work bill by Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday, Dec 11, 2012. / Eric Seals / Detroit Free Press
LANSING — Several state employee unions are asking the Michigan Court of Appeals to formally declare that new right-to-work laws do not apply to labor agreements that affect the 34,500 unionized state workers.
The lawsuit, filed Feb. 14, is the latest in a stream of challenges against Michigan’s new labor laws, which apply to contracts entered into after March 27.
Attorneys for UAW 6000, the Michigan Corrections Organization, Michigan Public Employees Service Employees International Union Local 517M and the Michigan State Employees Association are seeking clarification on the state’s right-to-work law that pertains to public employees.
Collectively, the four unions represent about 31,100 employees, or 90% of the state’s unionized work force.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed two bills into law on Dec. 11, making it illegal to require public- and private-sector employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment.
Ever since, there has been debate over whether the new laws apply to unionized state workers because the Michigan Constitution gives the Civil Service Commission oversight of state employees, including collective-bargaining agreements that apply to those workers.
Attorney General Bill Schuette has said he thinks right-to-work applies to state workers, but others disagree.
In their lawsuit, attorneys for the state employee unions allege that the Legislature exceeded its constitutional authority by passing a right-to-work law that would interfere with the Civil Service Commission’s authority.
The unions’ lawsuit specifically targets Snyder, Schuette and the three members of the Michigan Employment Relations Commission: Nino Green, Edward Callaghan and Robert LaBrant.
The state employee unions aren’t the only ones seeking a firm answer on how right-to-work affects the state’s work force.
Three weeks ago, Snyder asked the Michigan Supreme Court to determine whether the laws affect state workers, hoping to fend off lawsuits like this, which are popping up in the court system.
Last week, an Ingham County judge dismissed a lawsuit by Novi attorney Andrew Paterson and union activist Robert Davis because cases challenging right-to-work must be filed with the Court of Appeals. Similar to the state employee unions’ lawsuit, Paterson and Davis sought to challenge whether right-to-work affects state employees.
In Detroit’s U.S. District Court, several labor unions filed suit last week, claiming the right-to-work law affecting private-sector workers violates the U.S. Constitution.
Meanwhile, in Ingham County Circuit Court, unions have filed suit seeking to void right-to-work over alleged violations of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act, dealing with how the the legislation was passed during the lame-duck session in December.