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Battleground Michigan: Will This Be The Next Big Blow To Public Sector Unions?

The Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday on whether the state legislature had the authority to pass a right-to-work law for public employees.

While the labor unions that brought forth the case argued that the state’s Civil Service Commission (CSC) has authority over the legislature when dealing with labor issues for public employees, the state disagreed.

The 2013 law , if upheld by the court, will prevent both public and private employees from being forced into a union as a condition of employment.

“The legal question at issue here is the Civil Service Commission’s constitutional authority to control the terms and conditions of civil service employment and the legislature’s ability to override that authority,” attorneys for the labor unions noted.

The union attorneys argued, “Defendants cannot deny that the court below has devised a radically new theory of the commission’s constitutional powers vis a vis the legislature, under which some of the commission’s powers are more plenary than others. As accurately described by defendants, the panel majority discerns a ‘hierarchy.’”

The labor unions include the United Autoworkers Union, Local 517m of the Service Employee International Union (SEIU), Michigan Public Employees Association and the AFSCME.

The state of Michigan argued during the hearing that the legislature did indeed have authority over the Civil Service Commission on such matters, and that the right-to-work law could be applied to public employees.

“The plain language of the Michigan Constitution resolves this conflict,” attorneys for the state argued. “In article 4, § 49, the people gave the legislature the broad authority to ‘enact laws relative to the . . . conditions of employment.’ On its face, this authority extends to all employees in the state, public or private, including those in the state classified civil service.”

John J. Bursch, an attorney for the law firm Warner Norcross, expressed optimism that the court was going to side with the state.

“We think the argument went extremely well,” Bursch told reporters during a teleconference after the hearing. “Right out of the box, the judges made clear they didn’t agree with the plaintiffs.”

“The court is likely to uphold the law,” Bursch added. “They questioned whether the Civil Service Commission even had the authority to enforce collective bargaining.”

Rich Studley, the president of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, added, “The Civil Service Commission was never meant to be a little legislature.”

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