Do right-to-work laws undermine the Michigan Civil Service Commission?

Jul 8, 2013

On Friday, the Associated Press reported that the Michigan Supreme Court won’t give an early ruling on the state’s right-to-work law.

Gov. Rick Snyder pressed the state’s high court to weigh in on the constitutionality of the laws, which were quickly passed during a lame duck legislative session last December.

On Friday, the justices declined the governor’s request:

"We are not persuaded that granting the request would be an appropriate exercise of the court's discretion.”

In December 2012, Michigan became the 24th state with a right-to-work law in place. The controversial law -- which brought out some 10,000 protesters to the state capitol in Lansing -- throws out the requirement to financially support unions as a condition of employment.

Supporters of unions are challenging the constitutionality of the law, arguing that the state’s constitution gives the Civil Service Commission jurisdiction over the rules of employment, not the state Legislature.

In other words, they argue that the Commission has full authority over implementing right-to-work laws, at least for state employees.

But what exactly does the Civil Service Commission do, and where does its power come from?

Way back in 1908, the state’s constitution created the Civil Service Commission to oversee and regulate the rules of the workplace for state employees.

Today, the commission is a bi-partisan, non-salaried panel of four. Each member has an eight-year term and is appointed by the governor. According to their website, the commission takes care of the following duties:

  • classify all positions in the classified service according to their respective duties and responsibilities
  • fix rates of compensation for all classes of positions
  • approve or disapprove disbursements for all personal services, determine by competitive examination and performance exclusively on the basis of merit, efficiency and fitness the qualifications of all candidates for positions in the classified service
  • make rules and regulations covering all personnel transactions; and
  • regulate all conditions of employment in the classified service

During the height of the right-to-work protests in December, Scott Davis of the Lansing State Journal talked to Richard McLellan, a Republican attorney and constitutional law expert about the power of the commission.

“It amazes that me that people are going around saying this [right-to-work law] affects state employees. Under the state constitution, the Civil Service Commission has plenary power over state employees.The Legislature has no power.”

Meanwhile, Snyder remains optimistic that the court will rule in favor of the right-to-work laws. From a release from the governor’s office:

“We're confident that the constitutionality and legality of the freedom to work laws will be upheld in the courts.”

- Melanie Kruvelis, Michigan Radio Newsroom