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Latest News - July 2015

July 29, 2015
Right-to-work law applies to state employees, Michigan Supreme Court rules

Michigan's right-to-work law applies to state employees, according to the Michigan Supreme Court, which has ended one of several bitter disputes over the new rules.

The court, in a 4-3 opinion released Wednesday, held that allowing mandatory agency shop fees for classified state employees is beyond the constitutional authority of the Michigan Civil Service Commission.

The ruling means some 35,000 unionized state workers can opt out of paying those fees.

A union coalition had filed the suit on the grounds that the Michigan constitution gives the commission power to "regulate all conditions of employment," arguing that power should trump the right-to-work law, which prohibits union dues or fees as a condition of employment.

But Chief Justice Bob Young, writing for the majority, compared the fees to a tax and said the commission cannot require civil servants to fund its own "administrative operational duties."

"The authority of the Civil Service Commission is not without limits" Young wrote. "Although public collective bargaining is a method by which the commission may choose to exercise its constitutional duties, it may not require collection of agency shop fees to fund its administrative operations in pursuit of those duties."

The ruling upheld a Court of Appeals decision, albeit on different grounds. The COA, in a split decision, had ruled that the Legislature has the authority to pass laws on such public policy matters.

Justices Stephen Markman, Brian Zahra and David Viviano joined Young in the majority. All four are Republican nominees. Fellow GOP nominee Mary Beth Kelly, along with Democratic nominees Bridget McCormack and Richard Bernstein, disagreed with the ruling.

Kelly, in a written dissent, challenged the holding that agency fees fund the commission's administrative operational duties.

Employees pay such fees "directly to their exclusive representative for the costs associated with representation during the collective bargaining process and while a collective bargaining agreement is operable," she wrote.

"While the commission has separate operational and regulatory duties that include approving, rejecting, or amending the collective bargaining agreement that arises out of the collective bargaining process, there has been no finding — not even an allegation — that agency fees fund these regulatory efforts."

At issue is a current commission rule allowing the state to deduct a service fee from a civil service employee if it is agreed to in a collective bargaining agreement?

Young, in a response to the dissent, said the commission permits collective bargaining in order to fulfill its constitutional obligation to regulate conditions of employment.

"Having chosen this method of regulating conditions of employment, what the commission cannot do is foist the administrative costs of that choice onto anyone else," he wrote.

The court on Wednesday also upheld a 2011 law requiring some state workers to contribute 4 percent of their pay in order to maintain full pension benefits.

Michigan's Republican-led Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder approved controversial right-to-work laws for private and public employees in 2012. Police and fire are exempt from the laws, which took effect in 2013 but have faced several legal challenges.



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