Looking back on a decade of litigating to advance liberty in Michigan and beyond, it is tempting to ascribe some success to serendipity. After all, what are the odds of the Mackinac Center looking for a signature case to launch its litigation center just as a Northern Michigan housewife is trying to figure out how she, as the owner of a private day care, had become a public sector employee represented by a union? Sherry Loar brought her incredible tale to us not randomly, but because the Center had worked hard as a leading advocate for advancing freedom. Litigation has helped us greatly in continuing that cause.
Loar was joined by Paulette Silverson and Michelle Berry in the Center’s first case. They challenged the Michigan version of a national union ploy – one which decreed that any private service provider whose clients received federal assistance was really a public employee that could be unionized and forced to pay dues. It took over a year and a half for us to prevail, but the union was disbanded, thereby freeing over 45,000 individuals.
This union scheme was not the only one of its type in Michigan. Bob and Pat Haynes are the parents of two adult children with cerebral palsy. The Service Employees International Union was skimming dues from the governmental aid the Haynes received for watching over their own children instead of institutionalizing them. The SEIU unionized over 45,000 home-help providers. A Mackinac Center Legal Foundation lawsuit on behalf of the Pat Haynes, and Steve Glossop, who was providing care to his mother, eventually led to a legislative fix that ended this practice in Michigan.
Another time that a lawsuit from Legal Foundation led to a legislative fix was an attempt to unionize the University of Michigan’s graduate students. A previous attempt was ruled illegal in 1981, but union officials and university regents tried again in 2011. The Legal Foundation represented hundreds of graduate students until the Legislature put an end to a sham trial. At it, both the union and the Board of Regents were arguing to make the students unionized, and no one else was allowed to present evidence or question witnesses.
These three lawsuits — involving day care owners, home-help workers and graduate students — led to 90,000 to 100,000 Michiganders being freed, saving them over $9 million annually (day care workers, approximately $2 million; home help workers, $6 million; and graduate students, $1 million). The suits also had indirect benefits. Then-UAW President Bob King cited them as an impetus for unions’ ill-fated attempts to amend the state constitution in 2012. These ballot-box failures led to Michigan enacting right-to-work laws.
Right-to-work led to a series of Legal Foundation suits helping to implement it. We successfully fought a 10-year collective bargaining agreement meant to neutralize the law. We helped to end a Teamsters attempt to deny grievance representation for workers who left the union. The Foundation forced the MEA to allow its members to leave at any point in the year, not just in August. The union had to print a full-page notice of its violation in its magazine, Voice, sent out to all of its members.
The Legal Foundation also has pursued six lawsuits related to Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act. When the city of Westland charged $1 a page for copies, even though the UPS store across the street was charging 11 cents a page, we sued. When the Department of Environmental Quality, U of M, Wayne State University, the Liquor Control Commission, and the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs each took months to respond to records requests when they were supposed to do it within days, we sued. Now copies cannot cost more than 10 cents a page, U of M has had to revise its FOIA policy, and the attorney general’s office has entered an opinion in line with our views on FOIA response time. Many government agencies had to pay the Foundation’s attorney fees as well.
The Legal Foundation does not always directly enter into litigation. In many important cases, we have filed friend of the court (or amicus) briefs. One case led to the end of the Chevron doctrine in Michigan. Under that legal theory, unelected bureaucrats, not judges, would interpret statutes. In another case, our brief provided the rationale whereby right-to-work was upheld for state employees.
Our labor work in Michigan led people elsewhere to file a number of constitutional claims. Some of these cases went to the United States Supreme Court, where we filed amicus briefs. In Harris v. Quinn, which challenged the unionization of home help workers, we argued that these workers were not public employees and should not be forced to pay union dues and fees. Without citing our work, the Supreme Court agreed. In Janus v. AFSCME, we argued that the Supreme Court should hold that no public employee should be forced to provide financial support to unions and that those unions would survive without the power to compel support. Again, the Supreme Court agreed with our argument, and it cited our work to support its decision, freeing millions of public sector workers.
Would our country have arrived at this point without the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation and Sherry Loar coming together in 2009? Perhaps, but we have taken advantage of the opportunities that have presented themselves over the last decade. We are well-positioned for more.