Thousands of teachers misled into believing they have to pay union dues
Twenty-three public school districts that signed their union contracts after right-to-work became law kept language in that told employees they had to financially support a union as a condition of employment, according to a study done by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
Those 23 districts employed about 2,160 teachers.
“There are thousands of teachers in these districts who may be misled into believing they don’t have a choice when it comes to financially supporting a union in order to keep their job,” said Audrey Spalding, director of education policy and author of the study, in a press release.
Capitol Confidential asked some of the districts about their collective bargaining agreements.
- Deb Paquette, superintendent of Bloomingdale Public Schools, said the contract on the district's website was out of date. “The language has been removed via a letter of understanding with the BEA,” she said.
- Andrea Large, superintendent of the Ludington Area School District, said the language had been removed from the just-ratified agreement and the contract was being revised.
- Pete Kelto, superintendent of Munising Public Schools, said the right-to-work legislation was still being appealed when both sides ratified the bargaining agreement. “So we left the language unchanged but agreed to abide by whatever the Appeals Court ruling was,” Kelto said. “State law would supersede the collective bargaining agreement. We actually did hire a new teacher during the past school year that did not join our education association, and the association did not pursue collecting dues from the teacher. The language will be removed from the next agreement.”
- Amy Hodgson, superintendent of Dansville Schools, said the language in the expired contract was not followed. She said the 2014-15 contract that was just ratified will have the contested language removed.
- William Disch, assistant superintendent for business services at Mattawan Consolidated School, said the language in the contract was finalized prior to the effective date of right-to-work. “At the time there was a dispute over when it was actually finalized and the bargaining unit leadership file an unfair labor practice grievance,” Disch said. “The dispute was mediated by Doyle O'Conner (administrative law judge) and the result of his efforts [was] a settlement mediated that resulted in the contract language that Mr. O'Conner said fell within the confines of the timing of the law's effective date.”
- John Overley, superintendent of Lawrence Public Schools, said the disputed language was redacted on the copy the district received from its lawyer but was missed in the editing process. “It was overlooked in the editing process,” Overley said. “However, it has since been removed from the 14-15 contract. During the 2013-14 year, no teacher was required to join the union and the school did not deduct or collect dues or any money for PACs. I was assuming it was taken out. My wrong assumption and poor editing. Attached is the redacted copy and it shows that it should have been removed.”
Besides the 23 districts, there were another 34 public school districts whose contracts that raised legal and policy questions over when their contracts were signed and put into effect. Those 34 contracts were signed before right-to-work took effect March 28, 2013, but whether they would still have to be compliant with right-to-work is legally unclear.
Spalding collected the union contracts as late as May of 2014 for this study. Any changes to contracts after May are not reflected in the study.
After right-to-work (Public Act 349 of 2012) was passed, there were 234 school districts that signed new contracts with their teachers unions. About 33 percent of those contracts were signed between Dec. 11, 2012, and March 28, 2013.
Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project which advocates for charter public schools, questioned why the State Board of Education would go out of their way to crack down on charter schools but not act on conventional public schools that “blatantly ignore state law.”
“It’s a good example [showing] that the traditional districts will do whatever they can to flaunt the law until they are caught,” Naeyaert said.
In August, the State Board of Education adopted a statement that asked the state Legislature to develop school reform legislation that would create more enforcement involving laws regarding charter school transparency and accountability.
When asked about the contracts, State Board of Education member Eileen Weiser said, "Michigan is a local control state, so the State Board of Education has no involvement in school district collective bargaining agreements. However, I am surprised to hear that some districts are not following state law. Like local school board members, I too have been elected and have taken an oath of office. Where this is occurring, school board members should evaluate if failing to adhere to the law is in the best interest of their community, including the needs of voters and taxpayers."