- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

DETROIT (AP) - Thousands of Michigan state employees can’t be forced to pay labor unions for negotiating contracts and providing other services, the state Supreme Court said Wednesday.

It’s a big defeat for unions, especially the United Auto Workers, which have been collecting fees even if workers didn’t want full membership.

In a 4-3 decision, the court said there’s no authority in the state constitution for the Civil Service Commission to help unions by imposing mandatory fees on civil servants.

The case had long been framed as a major test of Michigan’s 2013 right-to-work law, which makes union support voluntary in private and most public workplaces. But the Supreme Court said its decision was based on other grounds.

“The authority of the Civil Service Commission is not without limits. … The commission’s rules must yield to the constitution when there is no authority for it to impose such fees,” Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. wrote for the majority.

He compared it to the Legislature’s exclusive power to “tax and appropriate.”

Young was joined by justices Stephen Markman, David Viviano and Brian Zahra.

In dissent, Justice Mary Beth Kelly said the majority sidestepped the issue that was brought to the court: Whether the right-to-work law applied to state workers.

“They resolved this case on the basis of issues that were outside the issues that were actually briefed and argued,” said Kelly, who was joined by justices Richard Bernstein and Bridget McCormack.

She said the commission acted within its constitutional powers.

“An employee does not have the option both to refrain from joining the labor organization that is his or her exclusive representative and to refuse to pay the service fee,” Kelly said. “Otherwise, the employee would receive the benefit of the exclusive representative’s mandated services without paying for those services.”

Liza Estlund Olson, director of SEIU Local 517M, which has 8,100 members, said Republican justices “twisted themselves” to produce a “political” decision.

“The vast majority across our coalition continue to be dues-paying members because they see the value of us continuing to work as a group to ensure their terms and conditions of employment … are taken care of,” she said.

A spokesman for Republican Gov. Rick Snyder interpreted the ruling as a right-to-work victory.

“Our intention has been to make sure people who serve on behalf of our state’s residents are able to make the same choices as other employees,” Dave Murray said.

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David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this report.

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Follow Ed White at https://twitter.com/edwhiteap


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