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Unions wage legal fight against Michigan’s right-to-work law
State Supreme Court declines to weigh in on legality of statute
In Michigan, a historic bastion of the nation’s industrial unions, the legal battle over the state’s new right-to-work law shows no signs of flagging.
Right-to-work proponents suffered a small setback Friday when Michigan’s Supreme Court declined to weigh in on the legality of the law, which makes it illegal to require workers to join a union as a condition of employment. But supporters are confident that the law will be upheld in the courts.
The state’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, had sought the legal opinion as the state faces three separate court challenges to the statute, in particular whether the state’s public employees are also covered by the right-to-work law. But supporters of the law say the high court’s reluctance is not an indication of how the court will eventually rule.
“The Supreme Court didn’t come close to ruling on the merits of the case,” said F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “They just said, ‘One way or another, it has to go through the normal judicial process.’
“We’re pretty confident that they’re going to decide in favor of worker freedoms, eventually.”
The battle over the passage of the law in December attracted national attention, with the Republican-dominated legislature pushing the measure through even as labor union members protested furiously on the grounds of the state capitol in Lansing. The state Supreme Court’s decision is just the latest salvo in the involved court battle that has erupted since Mr. Snyder signed the bill.
Workforce Fairness Institute spokesman Fred Wszolek agreed that the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision not to get involved in the case at this early stage does not necessarily indicate it will overturn the law.
“No, I don’t think it’s a signal of much of anything,” said Mr. Wszolek, whose organization encourages states around the country to adopt right-to-work laws. “It sounds like they’ve decided not to make up their minds just yet.”
The right-to-work movement gained momentum last year when Indiana and Michigan became the 23rd and 24th states, respectively, to institute such a laws.
Right-to-work supporters say these laws give employees the freedom to decide whether they want to join a union or not, but the labor community argues that the laws undercut their bargaining power and are designed to undermine their main source of funding.
The United Automobile Workers, based in Detroit, the Motor City, pointed to a study that shows workers in right-to-work states make an average of $1,500 less each year than those in other states.
“In the wake of this legislation, the only ‘freedom’ gained for Michigan workers will be the freedom to make less, the freedom to be disrespected at work, the freedom to struggle to pay their bills and the freedom to be left out of the American dream,” Working Michigan, a statewide labor coalition, said in December after Michigan legislators passed the bill.
Hoping to head off union legal challenges, Mr. Snyder asked the state’s Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on public employees. More than 70 percent of the state’s 50,400 workers are represented by a union, according to the Lansing State Journal. But the court rejected his request.
“We are not persuaded that granting the request would be an appropriate exercise of the Court’s discretion,” the justices said in a unanimous decision.
That means that any legal challenges will now have the opportunity to go through the regular process, starting with a circuit court and then the Michigan Court of Appeals. Eventually, it is expected to make its way back into the hands of the state’s Supreme Court.
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About the Author
Tim Devaney is a national reporter who covers business and international trade for The Washington Times. Previously, he worked for the Detroit News, Grand Rapids Press, Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News. Tim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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