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Teachers' Union Wants Lawsuit Moved Out of Court

Lawyer for Taylor union and district administration want state agency to decide contract extension legitimacy issue

Bureaucrats are a better bet than the courts. That appears to be the strategy behind the union's legal defense of the Taylor School District's right-to-work dodging contract.

On Feb. 28, three Taylor teachers filed a lawsuit contesting the legality of a new contract between the Taylor district and its teachers' union (the Taylor Federation of Teachers Local 1085). The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation is representing three teachers: Angela Steffke, Nancy Rhatigan and Rebecca Metz. 

The school district and union negotiated two separate agreements between the signing of Michigan's right-to-work law in December and today, the date the law takes effect. There was a four-year collective bargaining agreement and also a separate 10-year union security agreement. Under the security agreement, Taylor teachers are forced to pay union dues or fees for the next decade to keep their jobs.

In the case's latest development, the school district and the union, which are both represented by the same attorney, do not want the court to hear the case. They are asking Wayne County Circuit Judge Daphne Means Curtis to send the case to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission.

In a written response to the lawsuit, Mark H. Cousens, attorney for the union and the school district, stated the following:

"This court lacks jurisdiction to consider matters arising under the Public Employment Relations Act . . . as those matters are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Michigan Employment Relations Commission."

Mackinac Center Legal Foundation Senior Attorney Derk Wilcox disagrees. Wilcox said Cousens' response seems to be both a delaying tactic and an attempt to shift the case to a more union-friendly venue.

"In their answer they make it clear that they want to short-circuit the teachers' day in court," Wilcox said. "The union wants to remove the matter from the hands of the Circuit Court judge, and take it to MERC. The likely reason for this is that the union wants to delay the matter as long as possible. The union also probably believes that the MERC administrative law judges are more favorable to their cause.

"MERC jurisdiction is limited to overseeing union elections, unfair labor complaints, and violations of the union's duty of fair representation," Wilcox continued. "The Taylor teachers' lawsuit contains none of those things and involves matters of contract and the duty of school boards that clearly have no place in MERC. So a detour to MERC would only result in justice delayed."

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.