organized labor

Michigan Supreme Court
Michigan Supreme Court / court.mi.gov

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide next year whether the state’s right-to-work law applies to unionized civil service employees.

Four unions representing 35,000 state civil service workers filed the challenge. They say the right-to-work law does not apply to them because of the Michigan Constitution and the independent authority it gives the civil service system.

The right-to-work law was adopted two years ago by the Legislature during a contentious “lame duck” session. It says a union cannot compel an employee to pay union dues or fees as a condition of holding a job.  It’s not known how many workers have opted out of union membership since then.

The unions say the law does not trump the independence of Michigan’s Civil Service system because that is part of the Michigan Constitution. They say union membership is a condition to be negotiated with the state Civil Service Commission. The unions lost 16 months ago at the state Court of Appeals in a split decision. The majority opinion said the law applies equally to all employers.

The right-to-work law says a union cannot compel an employee to pay dues or fees as a condition of holding a job. It does not yet apply to state employees because they work under contracts adopted before the law took effect. 

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State lawmakers have backed down from penalizing Michigan State University over controversial courses about organized labor. The $500,000 fine was taken out of a budget bill approved this week in the Legislature.

“As we’ve made the rounds and talked to a number of members, I think as we give them all information, I think there’s fewer concerns than were originally raised,” said David Bertram, MSU’s assistant vice president for state affairs.

Bertram says no taxpayer money is used to support the program.

“As a matter of fact, we actually make a small profit off of this that goes into the graduate program at our school of human resources and labor relations,” he said.

The program is offered to groups hoping to learn more about union organizing. It is not open to regular undergraduate or graduate students.

The state budget for the fiscal year starting in October is on its way to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) - Several labor leaders are expected to rally at a suburban Detroit Wal-Mart store on the day traditionally viewed as the official start to the holiday buying season.

MLive.com reports the Friday event in Sterling Heights is one of hundreds of planned demonstrations and walkouts around the country. The Michigan Black Friday protest is expected to draw leaders from the AFL-CIO and Service Employees International Union.

Protestors outside the Indiana Capitol building when the "right-to-work" legislation passed earlier this year.
screen grab from video / The Statehouse File

A judge in Indiana has ruled that that state’s right-to-work law violates a provision in the Indiana constitution -- a provision that bars the delivery of services “without just compensation.”

 The judge found that the law wrongly requires unions to represent workers who do not pay dues. Indiana became the 23rd state – and the first in the Midwest – to ban the collection of mandatory fees for representation from unions. Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio network, joined us today. He's been covering Michigan’s right-to-work law – which, of course, was passed in December. Listen to the audio above.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

 Machinists, teachers, police were among the many unionized workers to hit the streets of downtown Detroit Monday morning.

The city’s annual Labor Day parade draws thousands of union members from across southeast Michigan each year.

It’s typically a time for union workers to flex some muscle. But this year’s parade was as much about re-grouping after a year of setbacks.

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Faculty at the University of Detroit Mercy say the university is “going backward” in ongoing contract negotiations.

Some U of D professors protested at an event attended by the school’s President Monday.

The two sides have been bargaining since late last year. Just last month, the university gave notice that it may invoke a clause to “terminate or modify” the current faculty contract in late September.

Faculty union President and Associate Professor of Physics Prasad Venugopal said faculty members are “very concerned” about that possibility.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A federal court challenge is blocking a group of west Michigan bakers from forming a union.

A federal court is preventing the National Labor Relations Board from certifying local union elections, because three of the board’s five members were appointed by President Obama without congressional approval.

In 2012, Panera Bread bakers voted to form a union at 6 locations along I-94 in west Michigan. The NLRB certified the vote.  But because of the legal challenge to the president’s appointees, the issue remains in limbo. 

Wayne State University professors have authorized their union leaders to call a strike if they can’t otherwise reach an agreement with the school.

The faculty union and school administration have been mired in contentious contract negotiations for months.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Saturday marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Flint Sit Down Strike.   

Hundreds of UAW members gathered in Flint today to commemorate the pivotal moment in the history of the union movement.   

Union members honored in song the six surviving sit down strikers and women’s brigade members who gathered to mark the anniversary of the strike that many say legitimized the United Auto Workers union.

Art Reyes is the president of UAW local 651.   He says the surviving sit-down strikers are an inspiration.

A package of Republican bills in the state Legislature would boost penalties for public workers who go on strike. The legislation would also let employers sue striking workers who get in the way of their businesses, and make it more complicated for unions to get dues deducted from employee paychecks.

The state House Oversight, Reform, and Ethics Committee opened hearings on the package today. 

“It’s just to give clarity," said Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Auburn Hills), who chairs the committee. "Strikes that are illegal are really illegal. We’ve seen people try to get to the gray areas and we’re trying to reduce the gray and make it as black and white as we can.”

Union leaders say it’s been years since there’s been any kind of public employee strike in Michigan, and they say the measures are really just meant to harass unions.

“It’s not enough to draw and quarter somebody; You also have to waterboard them and, besides that, shoot them through the heart," said Mary Ellen Gurwitz, an attorney with the Michigan AFL-CIO. 

Hearings on the bills are expected to continue next week.

Library of Congress

Last month, Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody visited Flint to report on the 75th anniversary of the start of the Flint sit down strike, a work stoppage at multiple GM facilities beginning in 1936, which Carmody says was "pivotal to the birth of the United Auto Workers," and had profound implications for American organized labor in general.

Carmody writes:

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Today is the 75th anniversary of one of the key moments in the history of organized labor in the United States: The beginning of the Flint Sit Down Strike.   

The Flint Sit-Down Strike was pivotal to the birth of the United Auto Workers.   

Three-quarters of a century later the echoes of the event still resonate.  

Pete Souza / Official White House photo

Speaking to union members and supporters at a Labor Day rally in Detroit, President Obama says his biggest concern is to “fully restore” the country’s middle class.

The President will outline a jobs agenda to Congress on Thursday. He drew a disbelieving groan from the crowd when he said he still believes “both parties can work together.”

But Mr. Obama also said he “won’t wait around for” Republicans in Congress.