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Unions Challenge Michigan ‘Right to Work’ Law

DETROIT (CN) - The AFL-CIO claims Michigan's new "right to work" law is unconstitutional, and pre-empted by the National Labor Relations Act.

The Michigan Legislature rushed through Public Act. No. 348 in December and Gov. Rick Snyder signed it immediately. That brought public protests inside and outside the Capitol building, as Snyder had said in 2011 that such a bill was too divisive and not on his "agenda." It is slated to take effect on March 27.

The law prohibits "closed shops," or requiring union membership as a condition of employment. Workers who do not pay union dues will still be covered by union-negotiated contracts. It forbids a mandatory payment to a charitable organization in lieu of paying union dues. And because the law includes a $1 million appropriation for its implementation, it cannot be repealed through voter initiative, according to an analysis by the Detroit Free Press

Plaintiffs in the federal complaint, filed Monday, are the Michigan State AFL-CIO; Change to Win; and the Michigan State Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO.

They sued there members of Michigan Employee Relations Commission (Edward Callaghan, Nino Erwin Green and Robert Labrant); Attorney General William Schuette; Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy; and Acting Director of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Steve Arwood.

The AFL-CIO seeks "a declaration that 2012 PA 348 is unlawful in its entirety and an order permanently enjoying from enforcing the law."

It claims the Act is illegal on the following grounds:

"a) 2012 PA 348 violates the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by

"(i) purporting to regulate an employee's right to 'refrain from' organizing, bargaining and other concerted workplace activities;

"(ii) purporting to regulate conduct aimed at causing individuals to refrain or resign from union membership and union financial support;

"(iii) purporting to regulate union-administered employment referral and 'hiring hall' arrangements; and

"(iv) purporting to invalidate an entire collective bargaining agreement between a labor organization and an employer if any provision of that agreement violates 2012 PA 348;

"(b) 2012 PA 348 violates Article I, Section 8, Clause 14 of the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by purporting to apply to federal enclaves subject to exclusive federal jurisdiction; and

"(c) 2012 PA 348's unconstitutional provisions are not severable from its other provisions."

The law also is pre-empted by the National Labor Relations Act and the Labor Management Relations Act, the AFL-CIO says.

"2012 PA 348 ... subjects plaintiffs, their affiliated labor organizations and their members in the State of Michigan to substantive and remedial regulations that supplant or conflict with those of the NLRA/LMRA, thereby interfering with and depriving them of their rights under the NLRA/LMRA and directly causing them actual or imminent injury that will be redressed by a favorable decision herein," according to the complaint.

Gov. Snyder on Jan. 29 asked the Michigan Supreme Court to review the law, anticipating that it would face legal challenge from labor unions.

Two days later, the American Civil Liberties Union and the AFL-CIO filed a complaint in Ingham County Court (Lansing), claiming the state violated the Open Meetings Act by locking constituents out of the Capitol for several hours on the day legislators approved the Act.

The plaintiffs also seek costs and an injunction.

Their attorneys include AFL-CIO house counsel Andrew Nickelhoff in Detroit and Craig Becker and Patrick Szymanski in Washington D.C.; and Samuel McKnight with McKnight, McClow and Canzano of Southfield, Mich.

Snyder's public approval rating dropped by more than 10 percent after he signed the law, according to the Free Press.

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