15. Labor Disputes

Empire Iron Mining Partnership v Orhanen – 15.40

Empire Iron Mining Partnership v Orhanen
Digest No. 15.40

Section 421.29(8)(b)

Cite as: Empire Iron Mining P’ship v Orhanen, 455 Mich 410; 565 NW2d 844 (1997).

Court: Michigan Supreme Court
Appeal pending:No
Claimant: Orhanen, et. al.
Employer: Empire Iron Mining Partnership
Date of decision: July 29, 1997

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HOLDING: Workers who obtain interim employment from one or more employers for at least two consecutive weeks during a strike are not barred from requalification under Section 29(8)(b). There is no subjective “good faith” requirement imposed on Section 29(8)(b).

FACTS: Sixteen employees were on strike for four months in 1990. They each obtained interim employment for at least two weeks from one or more employers and earned wages equal to or greater than their benefit rate. When laid off from these interim jobs these workers applied for unemployment benefits.

DECISION: Working for multiple employers does not disqualify claimants involved in a labor dispute from meeting the requalification requirements in Section 29(8)(b), and there is no subjective good faith requirement in that section.

RATIONALE: Section 29(8) states that a worker is disqualified from receiving benefits if his or her unemployment is caused by a labor dispute. However, under part (b) of that Section, a worker may become re-qualified for benefits “if the individual performs services in employment with an employer in at least 2 consecutive weeks. . . [and] earns wages in each of those weeks in an amount equal to or greater than the individual’s actual or potential weekly benefit rate.”

The Michigan Supreme Court decided that, given the remedial purpose of the MESA, “we follow the primary rule of statutory construction for cases interpreting the MESA: a “liberal” construction to afford coverage and a “strict” construction to effect disqualification.” To explain its liberal statutory interpretation of Section 29(8)(b), the Court further stated that the “MESA was enacted primarily for the benefit of persons involuntarily unemployed. Its purpose is to lighten the burden of economic insecurity on those who become unemployed through no fault of their own.” Therefore, the Court decided, “an employer” under the requalification provision in Section 29(8)(b) could mean multiple employers.

The Court also declined Empire Iron’s request to read a subjective good faith requirement into the statute. The statutory requirements for requalification are objective and the MESA does not contemplate investigation of a claimant’s subjective motivation. “Given the remedial purpose of the [MESA] and the potential to overload the system if subjective criteria were adopted, we will not tread where the Legislature has refused to go. Inquiry into the subjective elements of an employee’s employment is outside the bounds of the act.”

Digest author: Sarah Harper, Michigan Law, Class of 2017 (View original digest)
Digest updated: December 26, 2017