Court Rules School Districts Cannot Use Public Resources to Withhold Union Dues
School unions now responsible for collecting dues from their own members
An appeals court ruling that school districts can no longer automatically withdraw union dues from paychecks will be "devastating" to the Michigan Education Association, said a union president whose teachers left the MEA to start a local union.
"They will have to recalculate their loss projections," said James Perialas, president of the Roscommon Teachers Association, which decertified from the MEA last year. "Most union members don't think twice about paying their dues because with payroll deduct options they don't even receive the amount they are paying — it's taken out before they get it. With this decision, members will receive their own money, and then have to proactively make arrangements to pay. They will be constantly reminded of the amount they are paying — or overpaying — to support their union."
The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an injunction Thursday that had stopped a state law that would have prevented school districts from automatically deducting union dues or fees.
Now unions will be responsible for collecting dues from their members. If union members refuse to pay dues, they can be fired from their jobs unless their contracts have expired and they are eligible to take advantage of the state's right-to-work law.
Patrick Wright, director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, said school districts must stop making the automatic deductions involving any union contracts signed after March 20, 2012, when the dues deduction law was to take effect.
"This decision rightfully recognizes that government should not be a collection agency for a private organization," said F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, in a press release. "While this law is a good start, it only applies to school districts but should be broadened to include all government employers."
Documents from the Michigan Education Association show the union has planned for months on how to deal with this situation.
After Michigan became the 24th right-to-work state in the nation late last year, MEA President Steve Cook sent a letter to union officials saying the union would use "any legal means at our disposal to collect dues owed."
A cafeteria union president’s letter in 2012 showed several ways that the MEA was considering collecting union dues if automatic deductions had been outlawed: demanding full payment at the start of the year or requiring a checking or savings account number or credit card for automatic monthly withdrawals.
The ruling, coupled with the right-to-work law, will make it more difficult for the MEA to retain members, said Mike Antonucci, who reports on national education union issues for the Education Intelligence Agency in California.
"Not only does the local have to persuade each teacher to sign up, but to also arrange a form of payment. And it will (probably) not have the power to have the teacher dismissed for non-payment, leaving the union in the same bind as any other business that gets stiffed by a customer," Antonucci said. "In short, the ruling will act as an intensifier of the right-to-work law. By itself, it gets the school district out of the business of collecting dues for the union, which is a good thing, but it would only have a small effect on union finances."
However, not everyone sees the ruling as that significant. Bill Milligan, a Gladstone Area Schools school board member, said if school districts can still take dues out for the unions under the law, it won't be that big of a deal.
"If it's optional, I don't see it having a big impact, as many districts do it as a courtesy because it really isn't a cost or time thing for the district once it's set up," Milligan said. "It's a cheap price to pay to show some good will toward the employees."
Doug Pratt, spokesman for the MEA, didn't respond to a request for comment.
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.