Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in December 2012 accomplished the seemingly impossible task of turning Michigan, a longtime stronghold for unionized labor, into a right-to-work state.
However, in anticipation of the new law, which goes into effect on March 28, 2013, one union has approved of a deal that locks its members into paying dues well after they have a choice in the matter.
“Three Taylor Public School teachers … sued the union that represents them, the school board and the school administration over an agreement that forces them to pay dues or fees to the union for 10 years or be fired for not doing so,” Michigan Capitol Confidential reports.
Angela Steffke, Rebecca Metz, and Nancy Rhatigan allege that they were misled when the Taylor Federation of Teachers Local 1085 passed and the school district approved of a deal ahead of the right-to-work law that forces them to pay dues for another decade.
But with the help of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, the three are fighting get out of the 10-year “union security agreement" that expires in 2023.
“The decade-long extended payment requirement is outside the five-year contract the school board and union reached, which is a violation of the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act,” said Derk Wilcox, senior attorney for the Legal Foundation.
He notes that it’s illegal to have two separate contracts with separate expiration dates running at the same time.
“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,” said Wilcox. “This is a desperate attempt by the union to circumvent Michigan’s right-to-work law and preserve its own power at the expense of teachers.”
The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation offers a little background:
The district and union had been working without a contract since 2010, and the district was forced to file a deficit elimination plan with the state in light of a self-created $14 million overspending crisis. A new four-year contract was ratified in early February, along with a separate 10-year dues clause. Such clauses are generally part of an overall collective bargaining agreement, rather than a stand-alone agreement.
“The union is throwing teachers under the proverbial school bus with a contract that includes a 10 percent pay cut just to continue padding its coffers,” Wilcox said.
“This is the same union that thought it was a good use of its members’ dues money to spend $125,000 on the failed Proposal 2 ballot measure. The president of AFT Michigan got a 20 percent bump in total compensation. Our clients simply don’t want what the union is selling," he adds.
Steffke says the union and the district “colluded and conspired to circumvent” the state’s right-to-work law.
"The so-called 'security clause' guarantees nothing for the teachers except that dues will continue to increase," Steffke said. "Their money will continue to flow into union coffers, to pay inflated salaries of state and national union cronies."
“This is about our civil rights,” she said. “This is about fighting for our freedom of association and fighting against coercion in the work place.”
Metz clarifies that she’s not “anti-union” -- she simply disagrees with the idea of being forced into one.
“People should have the right to make their own decision about joining a union,” she said. “I understand our district is facing financial difficulties and the four-year contract can help solve that, but I don’t see any benefit to a 10-year union clause. I respect the TFT’s executive board, our negotiating team and my fellow union members, but I resent having my money used to prop up political positions and candidates I do not support.”
LANSING, MI - DECEMBER 11: Michigan State Police in riot gear push back protestors who are blocking a street during a rally at the Michigan State Capitol to protest a vote on Right-to-Work legislation December 11, 2012 in Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation is urging the court to rule the insecurity clause as void, or “in the alternative that the clause only be found valid if it lasts for the same length of time as the four-year collective bargaining agreement,” the group’s press release explains.
“It’s as if the union has put teachers in a dues purgatory,” Wilcox said. “They’ve been sentenced to pay the union for an extended period of time or be fired. If the union truly cared about teachers, it would let them decide for themselves as per Michigan law, rather than treating them like children.”
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter
Featured image courtesy Getty Images.