While teacher tenure laws and teacher union contracts place many hurdles in the path of a school district trying to fire a teacher who is accused of incompetence or serious misdeeds against students, there is one offense that might meet with little sympathy from the union: skipping out on paying union dues. In many teacher union contracts, skipping union dues is stipulated as cause for termination. In some of these cases, unions go as far as to say that they will even pay the school district’s legal expenses should the firing be challenged in court.
Grandville superintendent Ron Caniff said he had to check to make sure such that such a clause existed in that school’s union contracts. It did. But Caniff said it was such a non-issue that it has never come up in negotiations on either side of the bargaining table.
Contract provisions stipulating that teachers will be fired for non-payment of dues is “boilerplate language” that is fairly common in school union contracts throughout the state, Caniff said. He said he didn’t want his district employees dismissed over non-payment of dues and suspected neither did the union.
“It’s about the money,” Caniff said.
Paul Kersey, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said making Michigan a right-to-work state would mean teachers would not have to be fired if they didn’t want to pay the union dues.
“Unions would have to go to individual workers and ask for their voluntary support,” Kersey said.
Michael Van Beek, education director at the Mackinac Center, noted that these union contracts would essentially justify the taking a very good teacher away from students solely because the teacher refused to pay money to the union. He says this reveals the true priorities of the union.
“It demonstrates how important these teacher contracts are and the language in them,” Van Beek said. “This contract language is inserted to protect the union’s interests and not necessarily to do anything to protect the students.”