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Lawsuit Filed To Protect Teachers' Rights

Mackinac Center Legal Foundation files on behalf of three Taylor school district teachers who disagree with 10-year clause that forces them to pay dues or fees to keep job

(L to R): Steffke, Rhatigan, Metz

Three Taylor Public School teachers today 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.

Special education teacher Angela Steffke, special education teacher Nancy Rhatigan and English teacher Rebecca Metz are being represented by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation in a lawsuit charging that the 10-year "union security agreement" that expires in 2023 and signed by the Taylor Federation of Teachers Local 1085 and the school district is illegal. The agreement prevents union members from exercising the right to leave the union without paying fees or dues as allowed under Michigan's recently passed right-to-work law.

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 said it's illegal to have two separate contracts running at the same with different expiration dates. The 10-year clause also binds future school boards that have no control over the costs of the deal made before new school board members were elected.

"This is clearly an attemp to circumvent the law, and it's just bad policy," Wilcox said on the Frank Beckmann show on WJR radio.

Steffke said she thinks the union's own interests have been put above its members, especially as it relates to the increasing compensation of top union officials while she is taking a 10 percent pay cut.

"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."

The AFT-Michigan's top two union officials have seen their total compensation increase 28 percent and 46 percent in the past five years, according to documents the union filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

AFT-Michigan president David Hecker has seen his total compensation increase from $137,570 in 2006 to $176,195 in 2011, the last year financial data was available. AFT-Michigan Secretary Treasurer Lois Loftin Doniver had her total compensation increase from $111,716 in 2006 to $162,899 in 2011. Hecker had an annual salary of $131,122 in 2011 while Doniver made an annual salary of $117,704.

Meanwhile, Taylor teachers had to take an immediate 10 percent pay cut when their new contract was passed, Steffke said, adding that when she asked union representatives if they were going to lower dues accordingly she said she was told no and that dues would probably increase.

“This suit ... won’t change my salary one way or another," she said. "It is about fighting for my freedom of association and freedom from coercion, allowing me to advocate for myself and determine what is best for me and my family."

Michigan became the 24th right-to-work state on Dec. 11. The law prohibits employers and unions from signing contracts that require financial support of a union as a condition of employment. The law takes effect March 28 and any contracts signed before then are grandfathered.

Some unions have rushed multi-year agreements specific to dues collection to protect union coffers amid the fear that members will leave the union when the law takes effect.

"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," Wilcox said, in a press release. "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."

Union and school officials did not respond to requests for comment. However, in an AFT email that was sent by Progress Michigan, Hecker said the lawsuit was "frivolous."

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation filed its lawsuit in Wayne County Circuit Court.

Northern Michigan University economist Hugo Eyzaguirre discusses how raising the minimum wage will hurt emerging local economies. See more at "Raising the Minimum Wage, Lowering Opportunity."


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