After going into effect March 28, the legality of Michigan’s right-to-work legislation is already coming into question.
An Ingham County judge Wednesday rejected the request to dismiss a lawsuit by labor groups claiming that the passage of right-to-work laws at the end of 2012 violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act.
“We’re disappointed that the case was not dismissed outright because we believe it doesn’t have any merit, but we’re prepared to move forward, and we have a very strong case and we expect the right-to-work law to be upheld because there were not violations of state law,” said Joy Yearout, communications director for state Attorney General Bill Schuette whose office filed the request for dismissal.
Judge William Collette said the plaintiffs, a group that includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the Michigan Education Association, presented enough evidence to rule against throwing out the case. Both sides will now prepare for testimonies in the coming weeks.
Dan Korobkin, an staff attorney for ACLU of Michigan, said the aim of the suit was not to challenge the substance of right to work — which limits unions’ rights to organize within workplaces — but rather to challenge the “undemocratic and illegal process that was used to enact it.”
The Open Meeting Act aims “to protect your right to know what’s going on in government by opening to full public view the processes by which elected and nonelected officials make decisions on your behalf,” according to the legislation.
When right to work was passed in December amid contention, the Capitol Building in Lansing was closed to the public for safety reasons due to overcrowding, and there were reports that legislative staffers occupied the viewing gallery usually reserved for the public. At the hearing, Collette questioned Assistant Attorney General Michelle Brya about the building’s closure to the public and why legislative staffers filled the public gallery.
Brya said the claims were “inaccurate,” though Collette said it was still “suspicious” and worth debating as part of the lawsuit, the Detroit Free Press reported. Yearout declined to comment on the viewing gallery issue.
Korobkin said the ACLU has evidence to dispute the claim that the Capitol was closed for safety reasons.
“We have photos and videos showing (the Capitol) was practically empty by 1 p.m.,” Korobkin said. “So the idea that people couldn’t come inside because it was too crowded is just not true.”
Yearout said the Michigan state police had to take some steps that day to ensure the health and safety of everyone in the building. She added that open meeting laws were not violated, since all legislative activities were broadcast live on Michigan government television and on the Internet, and the media was present to report on everything.
“Everything was out in the open,” Yearout said. “This did not occur in the shadows. Everyone had a full understanding of what was going on.”