MICHIGAN EDUC ASSN V CHRISTIAN BROTHERS INSTITUTE OF MIAnnotate this Case
STATE OF MICHIGAN
COURT OF APPEALS
MICHIGAN EDUCATION ASSOCIATION,
August 16, 2005
MERC No. 03-000088
CHRISTIAN BROTHERS INSTITUTE OF
MICHIGAN, d/b/a BROTHER RICE HIGH
Official Reported Version
Before: Schuette, P.J., and Sawyer and O'Connell, JJ.
Respondent appeals as of right a decision and direction of election issued on May 26,
2004, by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) granting petitioner the right
to hold an election among respondent's teaching staff to determine whether petitioner would
serve as their collective bargaining representative. MERC's orders are vacated and all the claims
in the petition are dismissed.
Respondent is a Roman Catholic high school for boys, "sponsored by the Congregation
of Christian brothers." While respondent is ultimately owned by the Catholic Church under
canon law, the Archdiocese of Detroit does not provide financial support to the school.
Respondent and its faculty follow the teachings of Brother Edmund Rice with the primary goals
and focus of a Christian Brothers education having been distilled in the essential elements of a
Christian Brothers education. Faculty members of respondent are expected to initiate and end
class with a prayer and integrate into the curriculum the teachings of Brother Edmund Rice and
"good Christian attitudes." A daily religion class is part of the curriculum, and all students are
required to attend, along with periodic school-wide liturgies. While not all students attending
respondent are Catholic, they are expected to attend, if not participate in, ongoing religious
instruction. Respondent's faculty is primarily comprised of lay teachers, not all of whom are
Catholic or Christian. Faculty members are to promote and identify "opportunities to encourage
faith-building." Members of the Congregation of Christian Brothers are lay individuals and not
ordained as priests, but the congregation is deemed a "religious organization." The members are
described as living "a consecrated life," taking "vows of poverty, chastity and obedience."
Before the initiation of this lawsuit, respondent's lay faculty participated in an informal
association for contract and labor negotiations. Petitioner filed a petition for election, seeking
permission to have petitioner certified as the lay faculty's exclusive bargaining representative.
On July 22, 2003, an administrative hearing was conducted before a hearing referee in order to
"prepare a full factual record." Following stipulation by the parties that the proposed bargaining
unit was comprised of all full-time and part-time teachers, excluding administrative staff,
respondent objected that using Michigan's labor mediation act (LMA), MCL 423.1 et seq., to
regulate labor relations for a religious organization is restricted by the First Amendment of the
United States Constitution and art 1, § 4, of the Michigan Constitution.
Following a review of the record, the parties' respective briefs, and the exhibits, MERC
issued a decision and direction of election. MERC determined that, pursuant to § 28 of the
LMA, respondent's identified faculty "will vote on whether or not they wish to be represented for
the purposes of collective bargaining by the Michigan Education Association." We granted a
stay of the election and immediate consideration of the appeal.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
We will set aside a legal ruling by MERC if it runs afoul of the law or is otherwise
tainted by a serious legal error. Gogebic Community College Michigan Ed Support Personnel
Ass'n v Gogebic Community College, 246 Mich App 342, 349; 632 NW2d 517 (2001). Legal
rulings by MERC "'are afforded a lesser degree of deference' because review of legal questions
remains de novo, even in MERC cases." St Clair Co Ed Ass'n v St Clair Co Intermediate School
Dist, 245 Mich App 498, 513; 630 NW2d 909 (2001), quoting Grand Rapids Employees
Independent Union v Grand Rapids, 235 Mich App 398, 403; 597 NW2d 284 (1999).
Respondent asserts that MERC's application of Michigan's LMA is contrary to law and a
violation of the religious liberty provisions of the First Amendment, US Const, Am I, and the
Michigan Constitution, Const 1963, art 1, § 4. We do not reach this issue, except to say that the
government's intervention into a parochial school's labor decisions has been held by the United
States Supreme Court to raise substantial First Amendment concerns. NLRB v Catholic Bishop
of Chicago, 440 US 490, 501-503; 99 S Ct 1313; 59 L Ed 2d 533 (1979). Respondent also
asserts that the LMA is not applicable to it as a religiously affiliated school because the United
States Supreme Court's decision in Catholic Bishop applies and opposes MERC's assumption of
jurisdiction over this case. We agree. "The primary goal of statutory interpretation is to
ascertain and give effect to the Legislature's intent." Ross v Michigan, 255 Mich App 51, 55;
662 NW2d 36 (2003).
In Catholic Bishop, the Supreme Court held that the National Labor Relations Act
(NLRA), 29 USC 151 et seq., did not authorize the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to
exercise jurisdiction over lay faculty at a church-operated school. While Catholic Bishop "was
decided strictly on statutory interpretation grounds," South Jersey Catholic School Teachers Org
v St Teresa of the Infant Jesus Church Elementary School, 150 NJ 575, 584; 696 A2d 709
(1997), we agree with the approach the Court used in Catholic Bishop to determine the
legislative intent behind the statutory grant of jurisdiction to the labor board. Therefore, our
interpretation of Michigan's statute conforms with the Supreme Court's holding in Catholic
The Court in Catholic Bishop specifically based its holding on the lack of congressional
intent to grant the NLRB jurisdiction over parochial schools, but the reasoning underlying its
holding is universal. The Court first analyzed the NLRA's application to parochial schools to
determine "whether the exercise of the Board's jurisdiction presents a significant risk that the
First Amendment will be infringed." Catholic Bishop, supra at 502. After analyzing the
potential questions the board might be required to resolve, the Court stated, "We see no escape
from conflicts flowing from the Board's exercise of jurisdiction over teachers in church-operated
schools and the consequent serious First Amendment questions that would follow." Id. at 504.
Therefore, the Court held that Congress would not grant the NLRB jurisdiction over an area that
created such a risk of infringement without a "clear expression of an affirmative intention . . .
that teachers in church-operated schools should be covered by the Act." Id.
In our case, the Michigan Legislature drafted the enabling legislation for MERC (and its
predecessor, the Labor Mediation Board) against the backdrop of two constitutional provisions in
our Michigan Constitution in addition to provisions contained in the United States Constitution.
Const 1963, art 1, § 4, art 8, § 1. In art 8, § 1, our Constitution proclaims, "Religion, morality
and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and
the means of education shall forever be encouraged." Art 1, § 4 states, "Every person shall be at
liberty to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. No person shall be
compelled . . . to pay tithes, taxes, or other rates for the support of any . . . teacher of religion."
We find that MERC's role in the negotiation of employment contracts would present more of a
"significant risk" of entanglement proscribed by the Michigan Constitution than the risk found
by the Supreme Court in Catholic Bishop. Accordingly, we will not find that the Legislature
intended to enter this constitutionally sensitive area without first finding a "clear expression of
affirmative intention . . . ." Catholic Bishop, supra.
The LMA is "intended to prevent strikes and lockouts and other forms of industrial strife
for the good people of the State of Michigan." Local Union No 876 v Labor Mediation Bd, 294
Mich 629, 633; 293 NW 809 (1940). However, nothing in the LMA expressly grants MERC
jurisdiction over labor issues that arise in parochial schools. Although the Legislature has
expressly subjected parochial schools to certain regulations found in the private schools act,
MCL 388.551 et seq., the LMA does not specifically subject parochial schools to the authority of
MERC. The United States Supreme Court in Catholic Bishop held that nearly identical language
in the NLRA did not suffice to express Congress's particular intention to subject parochial
schools to the jurisdiction of the NLRB. Compare MCL 423.2 with 29 USC 152. Therefore, we
follow the reasoning of the United States Supreme Court and hold that our Legislature did not
intend to grant MERC jurisdiction over lay teachers in parochial schools. It follows that
MERC's orders are vacated and all the claims in the petition are dismissed. MCR 2.116(C)(4).
Vacated and dismissed.
/s/ Bill Schuette
/s/ David H. Sawyer
/s/ Peter D. O'Connell