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A Better Partnership
August 16, 2013

COA holds that the “Right to Work” law applies to the classified civil service

In 2012, Michigan’s legislature passed a “Right to Work” law prohibiting employers from requiring employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment, among other things.  In UAW v. Green, the plaintiff-unions filed an original action in the Court of Appeals challenging the application of the “Right to Work” law to the classified civil service.  The unions argued that the legislature had no power to regulate whether the classified civil service paid union dues, because the state Constitution had lodged that power with the Michigan Civil Service Commission.  The Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that the legislature had the power to regulate whether classified-civil-service employees were required to pay union dues.

The Commission had adopted a Rule permitting the Commission to collect a service fee if an employee opts out of union membership.  The fee is used towards the costs of collective bargaining and other union activities.  Thus, the Rule and the “Right to Work” law, which prohibited such mandatory fees, were at odds.

In determining that the “Right to Work” law trumped the Rule, the Court considered several constitutional provisions.  Article 4, § 48 states, “[t]he legislature may enact laws providing for the resolution of disputes concerning public employees, except those in the state classified civil service.”  Art 4, § 49 then provides “[t]he legislature may enact laws relative to the hours and conditions of employment” with regard to all employees.  Art 11, § 5 says that the Commission “shall . . . regulate all conditions of employment in the classified service.”

The Court held that the “Right to Work” law governed “conditions of employment,” placing it within the legislature’s powers under Article 4, § 49.  But the law did not govern disputes, and so did not violate § 48.  The Court also held that its interpretation did not conflict with Art 11, § 5, which grants the Commission the power to “regulate all conditions of employment in the classified service” because the plain meaning of “regulate” is “to govern, direct, or control according to rule, law, or authority.”  Thus, the Commission’s place in the constitutional system does not grant it exclusive control over the “conditions of employment in the classified service.”  The Commission merely regulates those conditions subject to employment laws of general application, like the “Right to Work” law.

Judge Gleicher dissented.  She would have held that the Right to Work law “transgress[es] the CSC’s constitutional authority to make rules governing ‘all conditions of employment.’”

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