Michigan Supreme Court Approves County’s Change In Retirement Pension Calculations and Dismisses Unfair Labor Practice Claim Filed by Union

In a 4-2 opinion (Viviano, J., not participating), the Michigan Supreme Court reversed a Court of Appeals decision affirming the conclusion of the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) that union members could bring an unfair labor practices claim against Macomb County because it did not bargain over a change in actuarial calculations for pensioners.

The retirement commission and the pensioners had allowed usage of a particular means of calculating retirement benefits for many years.  The commission then changed the methodology.  The union and its members filed an unfair labor practice claim.  The hearing officer dismissed the claim, but MERC found it could go forward.  In a 2-1 opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the change in the calculation method could not be subject to an unfair labor practice claim, but rather was subject only to the grievance and arbitration provisions in the existing collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

In a well-written dissent, Justice McCormack argues the 24-year practice of calculating benefits one way constituted a material change in the CBA which could not thereafter be unilaterally changed without the opportunity to bargain.  Since there was evidence the parties had relied on the long-standing practice, the unfair labor practice should have been allowed to go forward.

Although administrative agencies are generally accorded significant deference in their decisions, since the majority held MERC engaged in analyzing a question of statutory interpretation and of the CBA, these involved questions of law, which the Court could review under the de novo standard.  This gave the majority wider latitude in the outcome of the case.  Having freed itself from the tether of agency deference and the weight of primary doctrinal jurisdiction ordinarily vested in the agency, the Court was free to make its own rulings of law.

Here is the opinion:  20130612_S144303_75_macombco-op

About cjtucker06

Owner of law firm since July 2014; Handles all types of appellate matters and assists other lawyers with complex litigation and insurance coverage issues; Admitted to the Supreme Court of the United States, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and the State Bar of Michigan; Expertise in prosecuting and defending appeals with several significant successes in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Michigan Supreme Court and the Michigan Court of Appeals; Author of briefs amicus curiae in the Michigan Supreme Court for the Michigan Defense Trial Counsel and the Insurance Institute of Michigan; Represents Insurance Companies, Major International Business, Governmental Entities, Law Enforcement Officers and County Sheriffs. Board of Directors, Michigan Defense Trial Counsel Amicus Committee Co-Chair, Michigan Defense Trial Counsel Military - Retired Major in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps of the United States Army, Brigade Judge Advocate and Staff JAG officer for the Maneuver Training Center, Camp Grayling, Michigan; Recipient of the Army's Meritorious Service Medal (the highest medal of honor available to Soldiers serving in non-combat roles); 2012 Graduate of the Judge Advocate Officer Advanced Course, at The Judge Advocate Legal Center and School, Charlottesville, Virginia. United States Navy Reserves, Combat Warfare Qualification, January 1989 to July 2003 Former law clerk to Justice Stephen J. Markman, Michigan Supreme Court, Research Attorney, Michigan Court of Appeals. Insurance Coverage Associate Plunkett Cooney; Environmental Law Attorney at Squire Sanders, now Squire Patton Boggs; Master's Degree in Environmental Law; Environmental Law Scholar, ALI/ABA Washington, D.C., Juris Doctorate, Vermont Law School, Environmental Editor, Vermont Law Review; Treasurer and Finalist, Moot Court Advisory Board.
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