Mackinac Center Legal Foundation

CASE WON: Teachers Freed from Decade of Forced Unionism

In October 2017, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that it would not hear the union’s appeal case of three Taylor teachers trapped in their union. The ruling of the Michigan Court of Claims stands and the Taylor teachers may leave their union. Read on for more information.

The Issue

On Dec. 11, 2012, Michigan became the country’s 24th right-to-work state. The law prohibits employers and unions from signing contracts that require financial support of a union as a condition of employment.

The law, however, did not muster two-thirds support in both chambers of the Michigan Legislature to take immediate effect. The waiting period for new laws signed by the governor that lack this provision is 91 days after the close of the legislative session, meaning the right-to-work law will take effect on March 28, 2013.

The law exempts contracts that are in place before that date. Unions are now scrambling to create, renew or extend contracts in order to lock-in dues and fees before March 28, 2013.

The unions are doing more than simply extending current contracts. They are creating new, stand-alone union security agreements with durations up to 10 years. These stand-alone security agreements are illegal under Michigan’s Public Employment Relations Act.

Chain of Events

On Feb. 5 and 6, 2013, the Taylor Federation of Teachers Local 1085 held a ratification vote and a majority of members approved two measures. The first was a new contract, including a 10 percent pay cut for teachers, which expires Oct. 1, 2017. The other was an extended union security agreement that does not expire until July 1, 2023, more than five years after the collective bargaining agreement expires.

This is an attempt to lock teachers into paying dues or agency fees to the union for 10 years and to avoid a portion of the law that requires right-to-work to take effect anytime a collective bargaining agreement is extended, renewed or amended.

The Plaintiffs

Angela Steffke, Rebecca Metz and Nancy Rhatigan, all of whom have been teachers for several years, reached out to the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation after being informed that their local teachers union (Taylor Federation of Teachers Local 1085, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and AFT Michigan) desired to create a new contract in order to dodge the right-to-work law.

They feel their local union is not representing their best interests by attempting to pre-empt the state’s right-to-work law and denying members the ability to decide for themselves whether or not to financially support the union.

They point to several factors as part of this conclusion, including the fact that Local 1085 spent $125,000 in political contributions in support of Proposal 2 last November. That ballot measure, which would have enshrined collective bargaining in the state constitution, was soundly defeated by 15 points at the polls.

Steffke, Metz and Rhatigan also disagree with a 10 percent pay cut being forced on them and other teachers while the president of AFT Michigan, David Hecker, received nearly 20 percent in additional compensation from 2010 to 2011. Hecker took home a salary of more than $131,000 in 2011, with a total compensation of more than $176,000. That total compensation is up more than $35,000 from the year before.

The national AFT president, Randi Weingarten, saw her salary increased from $342,552 in 2010 to $407,323 in 2011. That’s a 16 percent raise.

The Case

Under Michigan’s Public Employment Relations Act, collective bargaining agreements cover the relationship between an employer, here the Taylor School District, and a mandatory collective bargaining unit, in this instance the Taylor Federation of Teachers. Collective bargaining agreements cover wages, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment. Since 1973, one of those terms and conditions of employment that the parties were allowed to include in their collective bargaining agreement was mandatory financial support for the union, so-called “union security agreements,” that require the school districts to fire any teacher who did not pay dues or an “agency fee” to the union.

Michigan’s right-to-work legislation ended unions’ ability to demand financial support from employees. Now, employees need only support a union to the extent they determine that the union has earned that support. To counter this, the Taylor Federation of Teachers sought to enact two different agreements.

The first was the traditional collective bargaining agreement absent a union security clause. This traditional contract that covers wages, benefits and most terms and conditions of employment runs for four years. The second agreement is solely a 10-year union security clause – nothing more. Thus, the union hopes to keep the mandatory payment of dues and fees flowing even after the traditional portion of the collective bargaining agreement is extended, altered or amended.

There is no ability to cleave a bargaining agreement into multiple parts with multiple termination dates. There is but one unified agreement with a single end date as indicated by MCL 423.215b. Further, looking at the documents in isolation, there is no indication that the school district received anything of value for binding its teachers to financially support a union some of them may believe is providing them with nothing of value. Finally, this decision of the Taylor school board would bind the district for the next 10 years and the courts generally frown upon current officeholders attempting to bind their successors to certain policies.

Plaintiffs are primarily seeking to have the union security agreement voided. Absent that, they seek to have it incorporated into the traditional collective bargaining agreement that will expire in 2017.