Courts Uphold the Michigan Right To Work Statutes

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

In December 2012, the State of Michigan enacted separate right-to-work statutes for the private sector, Public Act 348, and the public sector, Public Act 349. Michigan became the 24th right-to-work state at that time. Since then, labor unions have filed lawsuits to invalidate the right-to-work statutes.

Last week, courts upheld the validity of the right-to-work statutes against union challenges.

Public Act 349, the public sector right-to-work statute, prohibits public sector employers from requiring their employees to join a union or pay union-related expenses. The UAW and other unions challenged the constitutionality of Public Act 349 on the ground that the Civil Service Commission, which has a constitutional mandate to “regulate all conditions of employment” for civil servants, has rules that allow collective bargaining agreements for State of Michigan employees to require the collection of a mandatory service fee, which is also known as an “agency shop fee,” from union-eligible employees who opt out of union membership.

In 2013, the Michigan Court of Appeals, in a 2 to 1 decision, rejected the unions’ legal theory and ruled that Public Act 349 was “constitutional as applied to classified civil service positions in Michigan.” The labor unions appealed that decision to the Michigan Supreme Court.

The Michigan Supreme Court, in a 4 to 3 decision, affirmed the Michigan Court of Appeals’ ruling. UAW v. Green, Docket # 147700 (July 29, 2015). The majority opinion, however, affirmed that decision on “different grounds.” It did not address the constitutionality of Public Act 349 as applied to employees in the classified civil service. Instead, the majority opinion ruled that the Civil Service Commission lacked the constitutional authority to impose mandatory agency shop fess on members of the classified civil service. For the labor unions, especially UAW 6000, which represents thousands of State of Michigan employees, the net effect remains the same: Public Act 349 applies to employees in the classified civil service, and those employees cannot be forced to pay mandatory agency shop fees.

In brief, the Supreme Court’s decision has resulted in a failed attempt by the labor unions to invalidate, by judicial action, Public Act 349.

In 2013, a group of labor unions filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging Public Act 348 on the ground that the federal National Labor Relations Act, as amended by the Labor Management Relations Act, preempted the Michigan right-to-work statute. Michigan State AFL-CIO, et al. v. Callaghan, Case # 2:13-cv-10557-SJM. Federal preemption means that when the federal government has enacted a law on a topic and has indicated that federal law will be the exclusive law on that topic, a state cannot enact a law that covers the same topic.

On July 31, 2015, the court entered a final judgment based on a “Stipulated Final Order.” That final judgment, which the parties agreed not to appeal, upheld the core provisions of the right-to-work statute: a private sector employee, as condition of employment or continued employment, cannot be required to become or to remain a union member or to financially support a union.

Those core provisions, in part, specifically state that an individual cannot be required as a condition of obtaining or continuing employment to either “become or remain a member of a labor organization,” “pay any dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses of any kind or amount or provide anything of value to a labor organization,” or “pay to any charitable organization or third party an amount that is in lieu of, equivalent to, or any portion of dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses required of members of or employees represented by a labor organization.” MCLA 423.14(1)(b), (c), and (d). The other core provision is that any agreement between an employer and a labor union that violates MCLA 423.14(1) is “unlawful and unenforceable.” MCLA 423.14(2).

In the “Stipulated Final Order,” the court ruled that MCLA Section 423.14(1)(c) is a “valid regulation of closed shop arrangements” and is not “preempted” by federal labor law. The court also ruled that MCLA 423.14(2) and related enforcement provisions – MCLA 423.14(5), 423.14(6), 423.22(3), and 423.24 – “are not preempted” by federal labor law and dismissed the part of the labor unions’ lawsuit challenging those core provisions of the right-to-work statute.

The court, however, also ruled that federal labor law preempts several provisions of the Michigan right-to-work statute:

  • MCLA 423.8, which states that employees may “refrain from” the activities of organizing together or forming, joining, or assisting in labor organization; engaging in lawful concerted activities for the purpose of collective negotiation or bargaining or other mutual aid and protection; negotiating or bargaining collectively.
  • MCLA 423.14(1)(a), which provides that an individual cannot be required as a condition of obtaining or continuing employment to “refrain or resign from membership in, voluntary affiliation with, or voluntary financial support of a labor organization.”
  • MCLA 423.17(1)(b), which provides that an “employee or other person shall not by force, intimidation, or unlawful threats compel or attempt to compel any person to…refrain from engaging in employment or refrain from joining a labor organization or otherwise affiliating with or financially supporting a labor organization.”

Overall, the “Stipulated Final Order” means that the labor unions failed in their attempt to invalidate, by judicial action, the key parts of the right-to-work statute enacted by the State of Michigan. Those key parts remain in effect, and Michigan remains a right-to-work state. The preempted provisions do not impair the rights of Michigan workers to decline to become union members or to opt out of union membership and not to be required to financially support a labor union as a condition of employment.

If you have any questions about these decisions and the Michigan right-to-work laws, please contact the author of this Client Alert, your Butzel Long attorney, or any member of the Labor and Employment Law Group.

Gary Klotz

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