Pewamo-Westphalia and Hamilton put worker freedom into union contracts
While more than 100 school districts rushed to approve new contracts that impeded implementation of right-to-work before the March 27 deadline, at least two districts took a different approach.
Pewamo-Westphalia Community Schools and Hamilton Community School district embraced the concept of allowing its teachers a choice to join a union as a condition of their employment.
Both districts approved new teachers’ union contracts before the right-to-work law took effect, but had specific language in their agreements that allowed teachers to opt out of their union.
Hamilton Community Schools did it through a memo-of-understanding.
"It was important to me and the board that we honored what the intent of what that law was," said David Tebo, superintendent of Hamilton Community Schools, which is located in Allegan County. "My union didn’t dig their heels in. They understood where we were. It was never a point of contention. It was important to our union that publically we did the right thing and nobody was yelling and screaming about it.
"We are not a high profile district. We are not taking stands on issues that are politically charged," Tebo said.
Jason Mellema, superintendent of Pewamo-Westphalia in Clinton County, said the union leadership was 100 percent behind allowing right-to-work as an option for its teachers.
The new P-W teachers’ contract says: "No bargaining unit member is required to become or remain a member of the Association as a condition of employment."
"It's not a 'me' thing or a 'them' thing, but it's about us," Mellema said in an email. "We have had very good conversations about how to work together to solve problems. P-W is not perfect, and we (union leaders and myself) may not always agree on the solution to every challenge, but at the end of the day I know these people care about kids.
"Just my opinion, but if everyone in education learned to work together, we wouldn't have to rely on politicians or those who have never worked our field making decisions for us," Mellema said. "Unfortunately in education — teachers, support staff, administrators — we have all contributed to the challenges we face. Too many times in the past I've seen the different sides argue and fight instead of focusing on how to solve problems."