Seminar on right-to-work law conducted: Litigation against new law expected

By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

Detroit law firm Nemeth Burwell PC presented "Michigan's New Right to Work Law: What Does It Mean for Employers, Employees and Organized Labor" on Friday, Dec. 14, at the MSU Management Education Center in Troy.

The two-hour informational session, directed primarily at employers, focused on what the new law will mean in the daily operations of the workplace, both union and non-union.

The two-bill package was signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder on Dec. 11, just five days after it was introduced, as thousands of union supporters flocked to Lansing in protest. The bills are not effective until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns for 2012, putting them into effect in late March 2013.

"The rapid move to making Michigan a right-to-work state will have an immediate impact on the climate of labor relations in Michigan. Nemeth Burwell's overview of the legislation will answer employer's most pressing questions on what right-to-work actually means in the day-to-day operations of the workplace, even in non-union settings," said attorney and host Patricia Nemeth before the presentation.

Attorney Clifford L. Hammond of Nemeth Burwell was the principal presenter and brings an unusual personal perspective to the debate. He currently represents employer clients but has also served, before 2007, as labor counsel for the Service Employee International Union (SEIU), the nation's largest service union.

Federal labor law puts severe restrictions on what the states can do about employer/employee relations. The so-called "right-to-work" restrictions on collecting dues are exempt.

"There's only one thing you can do about unions under federal law ... and we did it," Hammond said.

Hammond also believes that both proponents and opponents may have overestimated the effect that the new law will have on unions in Michigan.

A recent Bloomberg analysis suggested that as many as 20 percent of union workers will opt out of paying dues. Hammond suggested he thinks the number will be much lower.

"Right-to-work, in my opinion, ultimately will be not as big as people believe," he said.

"In Alabama, fewer than 1 percent of the people who are in a 'shop' are not members of the union. This a hardcore, Southern right-to-work state and still less than 1 percent have chosen to say, 'I don't want to be a member of the union.'"

Even in states like Nevada, seen as a bastion of conservatism, right-to-work has proved to have less impact than forecast.

"You don't see 50 percent, you don't see 75 percent of the people rejecting the union," Hammond said.

Even among the "experts," there's already disagreement on exactly what the effects of the law will be.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette insisted last week that the new law applies to unionized state government workers, even though some other legal experts disagree. Some of these differences of interpretation are likely to end up in the courts.

"That's going to be litigated," Hammond said. "There will also be those who will say, 'Why did you exempt police and fire employees? That's not fair.'

"There will also be technical issues. This thing is not over."

Published: Fri, Dec 21, 2012

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