A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

A union representing workers in the Wyoming Public Schools district gave up as much as $12,700 in annual salary and concessions that would have been paid to its members so the union could keep language in the contract that makes the payment of dues or fees mandatory as a condition of employment.

But the state's right-to-work law makes that illegal if the contract takes effect after a specific date, and, Matt Lewis, director of finance and human resources for Wyoming Public Schools, said district officials believe that clause is not enforceable.

The Kent County Education Association wanted the district to leave language in the contract that says if a teacher fails to pay dues or fees to the union, the district would begin "involuntary payroll deductions." In return, the union gave up paid leave days and altered the salary schedule by as much as $12,700 a year in some instances, Lewis said.

"Preserving that language in the contract until 2016 earned us a lot in return," Lewis said.

A separate state law prohibits school districts from deducting union dues or fees from teachers' paychecks.

Michigan Education Association UniServ Director Sandy Paesens, who represents the unions in the Wyoming Public Schools, did not respond to a request for comment.

The district has since stood by its belief that the clause is not enforceable. In April, the union asked the district to fire a bus driver who was not paying dues or fees to the union and the district rejected that request. 

When the right-to-work law was passed in December 2012, many unions negotiated with school boards so they could extend their contracts for several years before right-to-work became effective on March 28, 2013.

Some unions gave up salary and benefits to get that agreement with their districts.

Patrick Wright, senior legal analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the union security clause in the Wyoming district was put in before March 28, 2013, but did not take effect until Aug. 15, 2013. That means it has no legal standing.

Lewis agreed.

"The union security clause is valid but innocuous," Lewis said. "In other words, we are a closed shop, but the district cannot threaten termination of an employee who refuses to pay union dues."

Audrey Spalding, education policy director for the Mackinac Center, said the negotiations to keep language that benefited the union by forcing people to still pay dues or fees wasn't in the best interest of teachers.

"This clearly shows that the union doesn't care what is best for the teachers but what is best for the union," Spalding said. "They gave up thousands of dollars per employee for unenforceable language."

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See also:

Despite Shortage Of Bus Drivers, Union Wants Worker Fired For Not Paying Dues

145 Districts Have Contracts That Dodge Right-to-Work Law

Lawsuit Filed To Protect Teachers' Rights

Taylor Teachers Oppose 'Insecurity Clause' Following Right-to-Work

Mackinac Center for Public Policy Director of Education Policy Audrey Spalding describes her latest study on right-to-work law violations in public school contracts and suggests why districts and unions are ignoring the law.


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