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State employees take right-to-work challenge to Michigan Supreme Court

Jake Neher

State employees are taking their right-to-work law challenge to the Michigan Supreme Court.

They hope for a decision that will reverse lower courts and say state civil service rules trump Michigan’s new right-to-work law.

State employees lost last month in the Michigan Court of Appeals, which ruled the right-to-work law applies to every workplace, including state offices.

Unions argued that 35,000 state Civil Service employees are exempt from the law because of language in the Michigan Constitution. It says the state Civil Service Commission and its rules govern state workers.

The unions’ brief argues that language was placed in the Michigan Constitution of 1963 created in response to patronage and corruption in public employment:

The civil service provisions of the state constitution were carefully crafted to preclude legislative meddling in state employment after a checkered history of such practices.

The state says there’s nothing in the constitution that exempts public employees from a law approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor. The right-to-work law was passed last December in a rambunctious lame duck session of the Legislature.

The right-to-work law says paying union dues and fees can’t be a condition for holding a job. Unions say it allows employees who opt out of dues to get union protections and benefits without paying for them.

State employee unions are in the middle of negotiating a new contract with Governor Rick Snyder’s administration.

Both sides say they intend to wait for what courts decide, and not make it a point in the discussions. There’s no deadline for the state Supreme Court to decide whether to hear the case.

The court has a five-two Republican majority. 

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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