As has been reported on multiple times already, the most notable thing about the way Republicans passed so-called “right-to-work” laws in Michigan was the speed and lack of any public input. But as time goes by, giving reporters a chance to examine the law that lawmakers apparently weren’t allowed to examine before voting on it, it’s beginning to look like they may have overlooked a few things.
Gov. Rick Snyder’s next right-to-work battle could be with the Civil Service Commission over whether the new law applies to Michigan’s 35,000 union employees.
Civil Service Commission Chair Thomas (Mac) Wardrop said Wednesday the question “will be an issue” and Commissioner Robert Swanson said it’s his opinion state employees are exempt. Union officials and at least one constitutional expert agree.
“I don’t believe that it does apply to state employees,” Swanson told The Detroit News on Wednesday. “The constitutional language is clear in terms of the commission having plenary authority over (state employees’) conditions of employment.”
In other words, the fact that the bill was plagiarized from an ALEC model bill and the speed with which it was forced through have combined to set up a nasty confrontation for Republican politicians in Lansing.
Police and firefighters were exempted from the bill for one reason: when Gov. Kasich stripped public employees of bargaining rights in Ohio, it was the opinion of Republicans that the ballot initiative overturning this legislation was successful because the public sympathized with first responders and thought they should be able to bargain for fair wages and benefits, and safe working conditions. So this carve-out was pure politics, done to make it harder for Democrats and the nurses and teachers subjected to “right-to-work” in Michigan to push back against the law.
Police and firefighters are protected in Michigan under Public Act 312, which gives them a right to binding arbitration. But Michigan’s unionized state workers are protected by the state’s constitution, which gives the Civil Service Commission – not the Legislature – authority over state employees’ conditions of employment, including their ability to negotiate for a union shop, which “right-to-work” laws make illegal.
The most embarrassing part for Republican leaders is that the constitutional lawyer who disagrees with their take on this is the Mackinac Center’s godfather, prominent Republican Richard McLellan. Here’s what he told the Detroit News:
Lansing attorney Richard McLellan, an expert on the Michigan Constitution, said language included in the legislation saying the law applies to state employees will have “no impact.” Snyder and GOP lawmakers may have been “blindsided” by the Civil Service issue, he said.
“(The Legislature) cannot touch state Civil Service and they can’t touch the Michigan State Police,” McLellan said.
Ouch. Maybe with a little public input, they could have caught that earlier?