East China agrees to contract forcing employees to pay money to the union
Add the East China School District to the list of Michigan school districts approving new union contracts just days before the state's right-to-work law goes into effect.
Michigan's right-to-work law takes effect March 28, but teachers in the East China School District in St. Clair County now will be forced to pay dues or fees to the union as a condition of employment through 2016. The East China School District has about 4,400 students.
Negotiators in the East China labor talks reached a tentative agreement on a new contract last Monday and the union ratified it the same day. That evening, on a 5-1 vote, the school board approved the contract as well.
Allen Reichle was the lone board member to vote no.
"I had more than one reason for voting no," Reichle said. "I didn't like the fact that we were doing it in a way that bypassed the right-to-work law. To me, that was sort of like saying 'In your face' to the Legislature. I also thought that, if we were going to do it that way, we could have done a better job of using the leverage it gave us to our advantage.
"Another thing I didn't like was the fact that we (the board members) didn't see the contract. All we saw was an overview," he said. "Also, I had reservations about the fact that the teachers took an overall 2.9 percent cut, which was less than the service people and the others. I'm not anti-teacher, but to me it could have been spread more equally. Even if it had been just a 6 percent cut, I would have been more comfortable with it."
East China school board president Jim Biewer said he didn't think the district got more or better concessions because of the union's rush to get the contract approved before the right-to-work law went into effect.
"I don't feel that was the case," Biewer said, adding that he didn't think the fact that the contract was approved before the law took effect was an issue.
"This is how we do our contracts," Biewer said. "The current contract was going to end in July. It's not as though we opened it up just because of right-to-work. We had been negotiating anyway. We typically agree to these contracts between 30 and 60 days before the contract expires."
March 18, was more than 30 to 60 days before July.
"It came together a little sooner this time," Biewer said.
Biewer said that when the board voted it was aware that passage of new contracts that circumvent right-to-work had become a contentious issue statewide.
"We knew that, but this isn't a six, seven or eight year contract, like some of the other ones," Biewer said.
In addition, there was nothing new about the board members not seeing the actual contract, he said.
"We did what we have always done. We set the parameters and then let the negotiators do their job," Biewer said. "This is our normal process. When they had an agreement, it was approved by the union and then we (the board) got to review it. We reviewed it for approximately three hours and then voted."
However, Reichle said following the district's normal process might not have been a good idea this time.
"I don't think that saying 'we've always done it this way' is a very good reason for this," Reichle said.
Biewer said that, so far, he hasn't been criticized by any teachers for voting quickly on contract.
"The teachers who I've talked with have thanked me," Biewer said.
To date almost 40 school districts across the state have either approved "union security agreements" that extend the forced payment of dues or fees for years beyond existing contract expiration dates, or have approved new contracts ahead of the deadline.