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Michigan: Union Tactics Delay Right-To-Work For Up to a Decade

School districts and universities in Michigan rushed to sign last-minute contract extensions that effectively bypass the new right-to-work law.

The right-to-work law went into effect last Thursday, but prior to the law going into effect at least 41 school districts and five colleges had approved contracts that circumvent the new law, for a few years.  There may be a price to pay, however; Republicans in the Michigan House of Representatives are threatening to apply costly sanctions on these districts and institutions.  The Detroit Free Press reports:

“House Republicans have voted for budgets that cut funding for the institutions and districts that signed contracts between Dec. 10, 2012 — the day that the right-to-work bills received final passage and a signature from Gov. Rick Snyder — and Thursday.

Under the law, any contracts in place before the law goes into effect on Thursday, would be legally binding until they expire, including provisions mandating that employees pay union dues. So school districts, colleges, even Washtenaw County employees, negotiated new contracts or extended current pacts to be in place before the law takes effect.”

And

“The cuts, which would take effect if the education and community officials can’t prove at least a 10% savings from the contracts, would: cut 15% from state appropriations to universities; eliminate a 2% increase that has been slated for community colleges; cut technology and performance grants for K-12 public schools, and withhold some revenue-sharing funds from communities.”

Universities stand to lose the most.  For instance, the University of Michigan could lose up to $47 million.

Governor Snyder has been cautious in commenting on the budget bills because they are still subject to a few modifications. “If people are bargaining in good faith and showing real benefits, I don’t believe they should be penalized,” Snyder said. “But if they’re simply extending the date, then I can see legislators having a concern.”

The contract extensions will lock members into financially supporting their respective union for up to 10 years. So, even though right-to-work was passed with the intent of giving employees the freedom to choose whether or not to support a union, many will be forced, against their will, to finance a union.

Enter three brave teachers from the Taylor, Michigan School District.  The three filed a lawsuit against the school board and the Taylor Federation of Teachers over an extension — one that will bind them to continued financial support of the union until 2023, while also facing a 10 percent pay cut.

Angela Steffke, Rebecca Metz and Nancy Rhatigan are the three teachers who value their freedom. “This is about our civil rights,” Steffke, a special education teacher in the Taylor school district, said in a press release. “This is about fighting for our freedom of association and fighting against coercion in the workplace.”

They believe the union security clause is illegal for a couple of reasons:

  • They argue Michigan law prohibits such an agreement from lasting longer than the collective bargaining agreement.
  • Additionally, they argue the law prohibits such agreements from binding future school boards to honor them, which is the case in Taylor.

“This is really a union insecurity clause, because rather than proving its worth to members, the union is forcing all teachers to continue paying dues or agency fees through 2023,” Derk Wilcox, the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation’s senior attorney, explained to the Detroit Free Press.

Labor leaders have also alluded to a 2014 ballot push to repeal the legislation.

Legal Filings on Behalf of Three Taylor Teachers

Video: MCLF Press Conference: Taylor Teachers Sue Union and District

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