A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Michigan state employees had ample reason to celebrate the new year — their unions can no longer get them fired for not paying dues or fees.

Almost all of the collective bargaining agreements between the state and its classified employee unions expired Dec. 31, meaning that right-to-work now applies to the vast majority of the more than 35,000 unionized state employees and they can exercise their rights immediately.

"Yes, state employees will have the option of opting out of the union," said Kurt Weiss, spokesman for the State Budget Office.

Unlike the Michigan Education Association, which attempts to limit teachers from exercising their rights to a narrow window every year, almost all contracts for civil service employees provide that these state workers can revoke payment or membership at any time.

Last year, several unions including those affiliated with the UAW, SEIU, and AFCME sued the state claiming the new right-to-work law could not be applied to public sector employees in the state's civil service system. The unions argued that Article 11, Section 5, of the state constitution carved out these employees and gave the Michigan Civil Service Commission the authority to regulate the conditions of their employment.

Following that rationale meant the Legislature could not write a law giving state civil service employees the choice to financially support the government union at their worksite or not.

The Michigan Court of Appeals disagreed, ruling that the state's right-to-work "is constitutional as applied to classified civil service positions in Michigan" and therefore applies to state civil service employees.

Specifically, in August 2013 the court held that the Legislature has the power to "to enact laws relative to conditions of employment, and [apply] those laws toward all employment in the state, public and private, civil service or not civil service" and that "Michigan caselaw fully supports the principle that the Legislature, as the policymaking branch of government, has the power to pass labor laws of general applicability that also apply to classified civil service employees."

The case is on appeal to the state Supreme Court but in the meantime, the tens of thousands of unionized state workers can determine if their union is worth the cost.

While there are an assortment of economic benefits associated with right-to-work states, the most important thing is the freedom to choose whether or not to pay money to private groups in order to hold a job. Thankfully, the government in Michigan will no longer be forcing money to be extracted from citizens merely because of where they work.

Workers can find more information on how to exercise their rights on the Mackinac Center's website, www.MIWorkerFreedom.org. On the website workers can determine if right-to-work applies to them and can download a form to opt-out of their union. 

F. Vincent Vernuccio is the director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Jarrett Skorup is a research associate for the Center.

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