Unions across the state scrambled last year to extend contracts to avoid the state's right-to-work law, but some have since reopened the contracts, which could give union members the right to leave the union.
That's the issue being challenged in a lawsuit filed by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation. At least 145 school districts signed multi-year deals with their unions days before right-to-work became effective.
Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook estimated earlier this year that as many as 30 percent of the union's teachers are covered by such contracts.
Patrick Wright, director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, said the Michigan Employment Relations Commission will decide whether reopening contracts makes teachers eligible to leave before the end of the contract. The legal foundation is representing Amy Breza, a paraeducator with the Clarkston Community Schools District, who filed a complaint with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission against the Clarkston Paraeducators Association and the MEA on this specific issue.
On March 25, the Clarkston School Board extended the agency fee agreement in many of its union contracts to June 30, 2016. By getting that deal finalized days before right-to-work became effective, it kept union members from exercising their rights under the state's law.
However, on June 24 the school board approved a "memo of understanding" with its unions that dealt with health care coverage. Wright said by doing that, right-to-work should become effective for teachers covered by those contracts.
"Anytime anyone tries to alter the union service agreement, right-to-work kicks in," Wright said.
(5) An agreement, contract, understanding, or practice between or involving a public employer, labor organization, or bargaining representative that violates subsection (3) is unlawful and unenforceable. This subsection applies only to an agreement, contract, understanding, or practice that takes effect or is extended or renewed after the effective date of the amendatory act that added this subsection.
MEA officials and the seven Clarkston Community School board members didn't respond to requests for comment.
It is common for school districts throughout the state to alter existing contracts to change the conditions of employment.
For example, the Walled Lake Consolidated School District made four amendments and had two "letters of understandings" with its teachers union during a four-year contract that ran from 2008 to 2012.