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Union lawsuit calls Michigan right-to-work law unconstitutional

By Deepa Seetharaman

DETROIT (Reuters) - Several labor unions filed a lawsuit in federal court on Monday, saying a Michigan law banning compulsory union membership for private sector employees violates the U.S. Constitution.

The right-to-work law, which goes into effect in late March, contains provisions that go "well beyond" the limits of federal law, said Andrew Nickelhoff, an attorney for the Michigan AFL-CIO, one of the unions that filed the lawsuit.

For example, the Michigan law allows for a $500 civil fine and the possibility of criminal liability for violators, which is not done under the National Labor Relations Act, he said.

"Our position is that so many parts of the right-to-work law are unconstitutional, that the court should strike down the law in its entirety," Nickelhoff said in an interview.

The lawsuit is one of three that have been filed challenging Michigan's right-to-work laws, which prompted protests of more than 12,000 unionized workers and supporters at the state Capitol in Lansing after it was enacted on December 11.

The AFL-CIO represents about 50 labor unions, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

The Michigan Building Trades Council, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union are among the other groups involved in the case.

The defendants are the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Director Steve Arwood, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

"The law is constitutional and we will defend it aggressively in court," said Joy Yearout, spokeswoman for the Michigan Attorney General Schuette.

Maria Miller, spokeswoman for Wayne County Prosecutor Worthy, said the prosecutor's office had not yet seen the filing and declined to comment.

Michigan, once a union powerhouse, became the country's 24th right-to-work state after Republican Governor Rick Snyder approved a pair of "right-to-work" bills covering public- and private-sector unions in December.

Monday's lawsuit does not cover the law affecting public-sector workers.

(Editing by G Crosse)

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