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NEWSState worker unions sue Michigan Civil Service Commissioners over dues payment rule

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A coalition of state worker unions has filed a federal lawsuit against the Michigan Civil Service Commission over a rule change they say is an unlawful attack on their union rights.

In July, the commission passed a rule requiring unionized State of Michigan employees to annually agree to paying union dues. Previously, state workers only had to authorize dues payments once and could opt out of those payments at any time.

Union members say the move was a callous attempt to strip their bargaining power during a pandemic. It's harder for groups to communicate with their members when many are working remotely and focused on their health and budgets, they said.

I've seen so many of my co-workers (at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans) going above and beyond these last 6 months, putting ourselves and our families in danger because of this disease," Tammy Porter, president of AFSCME Local 261, said in a release. "This is the thanks we get? We deserve better than this."

Three state worker unions, AFSCME, SEIU and the UAW, sued the individual commission members over the rule change. 

James Barrett, Jase Bolger and Jeff Steffel supported the annual requirement when it was up for a vote in July. Janet McClelland did not.

At the meeting, Bolger described the move as a protection of workers' rights to choose whether to support their union. He said workers should consent annually to dues payments.

Commissioners were motivated by hostility when they voted to have union members reauthorize dues annually, union leaders said in a complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

There is no legally supportable reason for this change in the Commission Rules," they said.

The unions accused commissioners of violating the contracts clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states governments shall not pass laws "impairing the obligation of contracts" and workers' rights to free speech.

The unions also filed a motion for immediate injunctive relief, hoping to block the Civil Service Commission from implementing the rule. 

In October, employees who have not authorized dues payments since Oct. 1, 2019 will have to re-enroll or the state will automatically stop deducting their union dues.

If they miss that enrollment period they can re-authorize payments at any time and have dues deducted starting the next pay period.

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