Michigan unions battle private sector right to work law

DETROIT – Disregarding a move by Michigan’s GOP governor to take the issue straight to the state Supreme Court, Michigan unions sued to overturn the state’s so-called “right to work” law affecting private sector workers.

Left unchallenged – at least so far – was Michigan’s other right to work statute, covering public sector workers. The lame-duck GOP-run legislature rushed both laws through on Dec. 11 and GOP Gov. Rick Snyder signed them immediately.

Then, trying to pre-empt the union coalition, Snyder asked the state Supreme Court in early February to rule on the constitutionality of right to work (for less), especially for public workers.

Right to work, which both unions and Democratic President Barack Obama call “right to work for less,” has been a favorite radical right-big business cause for decades. It lets workers covered by union contracts escape paying dues or fees for the union’s services, including bargaining and worker protection in conflicts with bosses. But the unions still must foot the bill for such “free riders.”

“Right to work” is designed to break unions financially, thus depriving them of power to defend workers and raise their standards of living.

The state Building and Construction Trades Council, the state AFL-CIO, Change To Win and the Service Employees are among the unions that sued Michigan in federal court in Detroit on Feb. 11. No trial date was set. Right to work (for less) is scheduled to become law on March 27.

Andrew Nickelhoff, an attorney for the firm that represents the unions – and has represented the state labor federation for decades – told Reuters the Michigan law is illegal because it includes a $500 fine and jail terms for violators, in other words for unions that sign contracts which mandate collection of dues or representation fees. The Michigan right to work for less law also, illegally, throws out an entire union contract with a company if the contract has a dues collection clause, court papers add.

“Our position is that so many parts of the right-to-work law are unconstitutional, that the court should strike down the law in its entirety,” Nickelhoff added. The Michigan right to work law violates the National Labor Relations Act, he said.

Unions had planned to challenge both right to work for less laws in state courts, arguing the legislature illegally passed them. They said lawmakers violated the state’s Open Meetings Law by barring the public from the state capitol in Lansing. Passage, on virtual party-line votes, occurred during a tumultuous scene: At least 12,000 unionists descended on the capitol, demanding to be heard. But state troopers, at Snyder’s command, barred their way. And the legislature’s GOP majority locked the capitol doors.

Photo: Michigan AFL-CIO Facebook page.



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service.