Michigan judge allows right-to-work challenge to proceed

[JURIST] A Michigan state court judge on Wednesday denied a request [video] by Attorney General Bill Schuette [official website] to dismiss a lawsuit filed by organized labor supporters and alleging that the state's new right-to-work laws [SB 0116 materials; HB 4003 materials] were passed in violation of the Michigan Open Meetings Act (OMA) [text, PDF]. In denying the motion to dismiss, Judge William Collette of the Thirtieth Judicial Circuit Court rejected Shuette's argument that challenges to the laws must be brought in the Michigan Court of Appeals [official website] rather than the lowest courts, as potential violations of the OMA are the most important legal issues to be considered. The suit was brought by Michigan's State AFL-CIO, its Education Association, and its Building and Construction Trades Council, as well as the union coalition Change to Win [advocacy websites] and several Democratic legislators. Together, the labor advocates contend that although the legislation was debated and passed [JURIST report] by the Michigan Legislature [official website] in December, the public was prohibited from entering the Capitol Building through the public entrance by Michigan state police in violation of the OMA, the Michigan Constitution [materials], and the First Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder]. An evidentiary hearing on the allegations is expected this summer.

Michigan currently stands as the twenty-fourth state to enact "right-to-work" legislation. The state's right-to-work laws have been controversial since their passage and rapid approval by Republic Governor Rick Snyder [official website] approximately four months ago. While JURIST Guest Columnist Karla Swift of the Michigan AFL-CIO has contended that the laws violate the OMA [JURIST comment], Columnist Theodore J. St. Antoine [academic profile] of the University of Michigan Law School has nonetheless concluded that courts will uphold the laws' core provisions [JURIST op-ed]. In January, Snyder requested an advisory opinion [JURIST report] by the Michigan Supreme Court [official website] on the constitutionality of the laws. Earlier that month, JURIST Guest Columnist Susan Bitensky [academic profile] of the Michigan State University College of Law criticized Michigan's right to work law [JURIST op-ed] as a bill that will "weaken the people and families who depend upon the benefits and protections negotiated by labor unions." In September, the Michigan Supreme Court ordered [JURIST report] a union-backed measure to amend the state constitution to include a right to labor unionization and collective bargaining to appear on the November ballot. The measure was ultimately defeated [AP report] by a 57-43 margin.

 

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