by Clyde Weiss | February 08, 2013
Michigan legislators violated the state’s constitution and other laws when they debated and then voted in a divisive right-to-work-for-less measure that Gov. Rick Snyder later signed into law last December. That’s according to a union coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit filed last week demanding the law be struck down.
In a lawsuit filed on behalf of a journalist, citizens, legislators, and unions, the groups contend Michigan’s lawmakers violated the state Constitution and Open Meetings Act, and the First Amendment, when they debated and acted on the measure on Dec. 6, 2012.
Lawmakers who supported the corporate-backed legislation rushed it through during their lame-duck session rather than allow it to proceed through the standard committee hearing process, where members of the public could weigh in. Instead, they acted while members of the public and some journalists not already present in the Capitol were locked out for more than four hours.
“I was there, on the Capitol lawn when they locked down the Capitol Building,” said AFSCME Council 25 Sec.-Treas. Lawrence A. Roehrig, also an AFSCME International vice president. “It looked like martial law had been declared: The Michigan State Police took control of the entrances and exits, and members of their SWAT team roamed the building and grounds. This is not the way our government is supposed to function in America in the 21st century. This looked more like East Berlin in the mid-1960s.”
“Rushing controversial bills through a lame-duck session is a bad way to make public policy under the best of circumstances; doing so on such important issues while the public is shut out of the debate every step of the way is illegal and shameful,” said ACLU of Michigan Exec. Dir. Kary L. Moss. “We have a sacred right to peacefully assemble and petition our government. When there is dissent and emotions are running high, our elected leaders should encourage more open debate, not close the doors to concerned voters.”
Michigan State AFL-CIO Pres. Karla Swift added, “Regardless of how you feel about right-to-work laws, everyone has a stake in seeing that our government conducts business in a democratic and transparent way. Any law passed while citizens were locked out of their capitol building should be struck down.”
Whether the union coalition’s lawsuit will be heard is uncertain, as Governor Snyder this week asked the state Supreme Court to decide the law’s constitutionality. However, the suit does not challenge the substance of the law – only the illegal and undemocratic process used in enacting it. AFSCME agrees that the law was passed illegally. We also maintain that the law itself should be overturned because it is an assault on democracy designed to undermine workers’ rights.
“Governor Snyder and the Republicans have tried every trick they have been able to imagine to ensure that the people have no voice in the debate over right-to-work-for-less,” said AFSCME Council 25 Pres. Albert Garrett. “Their conduct is shameful, and will not bear the light of day or a breath of fresh air. Governor Snyder’s latest gambit is an attempt to pre-empt any legal challenge to this reprehensible law by going directly to the Supreme Court, where his party holds the majority and he is about to appoint another justice. This chicanery must not stand.”
Learn more about right-to-work-for-less laws here.