News Story

Attorney: Taylor District Violated Contract Law to Lock In 10-Year Union Agreement

Union 'security clause' forces teachers to pay dues or fees for a decade as a condition of employment

Taylor Public Schools and its faculty union might have bypassed more than just the right-to-work law with their agreement earlier this year, according to a motion filed in the case.

In an apparent rush to get a contract approved before the state's right-to-work law went into effect, the union and school district seemed to have skipped a fundamental element of forming a contract.

That's a key argument made in a summary judgment motion filed by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation. The foundation is representing special education teacher Angela Steffke, special education teacher Nancy Rhatigan, and English teacher Rebecca Metz in the lawsuit.

According to the motion, an agreement between the district and union, under which Taylor teachers would be required to pay union dues and fees until 2023, lacked "consideration." In contractual language, "consideration" is something that each side gives up to the other side in exchange for what they are getting. Under law, some sort of consideration is required.

"By entering into the Unions Security Agreement, the Taylor School Board is attempting to set an unbreakable policy to be followed by subsequent school boards whether they like it or not," said Derk Wilcox, senior attorney for the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation. “Legislative bodies, such as the school board, cannot bind subsequent bodies like that to an unalterable policy. They have set in stone (for 10 years) the policy of requiring schools to demand that teachers pay the union, and firing the teacher for not paying the union if the union requests it. They tried to do this by using a contract. That is not permissible unless it is a real contract for a tangible good or service. This agreement does not meet that requirement."

Michigan's right-to-work law prohibits requiring employees to pay a union dues or fees as a condition of employment.

Earlier this year, the Taylor School District and Taylor Federation of Teachers Local 1085 negotiated two separate agreements. That took place between the signing of Michigan's right-to-work law in December and March 28, the date the law took effect.

One agreement was a four-year collective bargaining agreement. The other agreement was a 10-year union security agreement, under which Taylor teachers are forced to pay union dues or fees for the next decade to keep their jobs.

On Feb. 28, the three Taylor teachers filed a lawsuit contesting the legality of a new contract between the Taylor district and the union. 

The case is before Wayne County Circuit Judge Daphne Means Curtis. A June hearing had been set, but now is expected to be rescheduled for a later date. Both sides have filed summary judgment motions.

Wilcox said in his motion that no valid consideration was given in the Taylor union security agreement. Duties owed as part of the collective bargaining agreement had already been given and therefore could not be given again in the union security agreement.

Another argument made in the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation motion is that general labor law of Michigan holds that there should be one collective bargaining agreement and that all the terms should expire around the same time without side agreements. Wilcox said that to allow otherwise would make portions of Michigan's labor law meaningless.

Taylor School District and the union are both represented by the same attorney, Mark H. Cousens. His primary argument is that the court lacks jurisdiction and the case should go before the Michigan Employment Relations Commission.

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.