- Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2014

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to take two cases that affect thousands of state workers and divide labor unions and Republicans who control the Capitol.

The court will decide whether state employees are covered by a so-called right-to-work law that makes financial support for unions voluntary. The other case involves employee contributions to pensions. Both likely will define the constitutional powers of the state Civil Service Commission, which has clashed with the Legislature over policies for the government workforce.

In brief orders released Thursday, the Supreme Court said it would take two cases that were handled last summer by the state appeals court. In one, the appeals court said the right-to-work law allows state employees to drop their support for unions. In the other, the court said a law requiring 4 percent payments in exchange for a full pension was unconstitutional.

The cases were decided by separate three-judge panels.

The right-to-work law prohibits forcing public and private workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. It was quickly passed in December 2012, and signed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, over the shouts of thousands of protesters.

Unions have argued that state workers aren’t covered because only the Civil Service Commission can set employment rules under the Michigan Constitution. But the appeals court, in a 2-1 decision, said lawmakers have authority to pass laws covering all employment in the state.

The four-member commission still is dominated by appointees of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat.

In the pension case, Republican lawmakers in 2011 passed a law that required about 18,000 workers hired before April 1997 to contribute toward a full pension or freeze the pension benefit and move to a 401(k). Virtually all have been making the contribution, but the appeals court said only the Civil Service Commission can change compensation, including pensions.

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