Michigan supreme court upholds right to work status for state workers

While taking place at the state level, this one could be very big for the Right to Work movement. The state supreme court in Michigan has dealt a double blow to the unions and the state government apparatus which is essentially owned by them. The Justices ruled yesterday that not only is Right to Work the law of the land for private industry, but it applies to public sector workers as well, and they can’t be forced to participate in unions against their wishes. (Detroit Free Press)

The Michigan Supreme Court, in an opinion that has the effect of making state employees subject to Michigan’s 2012 right-to-work law, ruled Wednesday that Michigan’s Civil Service Commission never had the authority to impose union fees on state workers, even before the controversial law was passed.

The 4-3 ruling is a blow to the United Auto Workers and other unions representing about 36,000 state employees, who argued only the bipartisan Civil Service Commission — not the Legislature — can set the conditions of employment for civil servants.

The state Civil Service Commission is a four person “nonpartisan” board which is unelected. They are appointed by the Governor, but this debate dates back well before the tenure of Rick Snyder. The idea that such a reclusive board was ever going to be immune to the political power of the unions was absurd.

That decision wasn’t the only one coming out of the court. Union workers are going to need to kick in a bit toward their retirement plans.

In another setback for state employee unions, the court also upheld Wednesday a 2011 law requiring employees in the state’s defined benefit pension plan to either contribute 4% of their pay toward retirement costs or move to a 401(k)style plan, in which future retirement benefits are not defined. That ruling overturned a decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The reason this could have national implications is that Michigan was trying to use the same dodge that many other union controlled states have employed in the face of rising Right to Work movements. When informed that workers could opt out of paying dues, the state turned around and allowed the unions to charge so-called “agency fees” on them, deducted from their paychecks with no say as to how the money would be used. The result is the same as with paying dues: the unions take the money and lobby for their own political positions and candidates even if those actions are directly contrary to the wishes of the worker. This effectively robs employees of their right to free speech and participation in the electoral process.

The tide seems to be continuing to roll in favor of Right to Work. It’s more common to see such moves taking root in southern red states, but now some victories are being achieved in places like… Detroit. I expect that this will remain more of a generational change than some overnight, sweeping success, but all the signs point toward a more fair system for workers and the freedom to choose their own path and control their voice in elections.