News Story

Brighton Union, District Strike Illegal Language from Contract

Mackinac Center Legal Foundation withdraws lawsuit

Within two weeks of being sued by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, the Brighton Education Association and Brighton Area Schools agreed to strike illegal language in its teachers contract requiring non-union members to pay a fee to support teachers leaving the classroom to conduct union business.

Brighton High School teacher Adam Neuman, the plaintiff in the case, says he is relieved as a non-union member to no longer live with the treat of payroll deductions for so-called release time.

“This was never anything personal against the union or the district,” he said. “I’m glad that we got a resolution so that other teachers won’t have to deal with unlawful charges.”

He added that he is grateful to the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation for helping him bring the matter to the attention of the district.

Neuman sought removal of the language, which was included in a June collective bargaining agreement between the BEA and the district. Neuman also sought recovery of legal fees. Additionally, if Brighton were found to be in violation of Michigan’s right-to-work law, it could have also faced a $500 fine.

Neuman and his attorneys at MCLF waived the legal fees as part of the settlement.

"Although we originally sought penalties and legal fees, the Mackinac Center did not press for these because the matter was settled so quickly after the school district immediately sought to strike the illegal contract language,” said Derk Wilcox, MCLF senior attorney.

“We are pleased that we were able to bring this lawsuit to a close in an efficient manner,” said Brighton Superintendent Gary Gray.

Neuman claimed the language violated Michigan’s right-to-work law, which protects non-union members against forced union dues or fees. Neuman also protested that not only were non-members being compelled to pay release time fees, the fees were to be deducted from paychecks, another violation of the law.

Neuman left the union in August. The contract between the union and district went into effect in September. He believes the language was not an oversight. The union told him and others that non-members would be responsible for release time fees. Neuman says the threat had the effect of keeping some teachers in the union because they figured if they had to pay, they at least wanted to keep their vote.

Gray says the language was not intended to conflict with state law.

“Our practice is to (stay) in accordance of new laws. We always take time after settling a contract to go through a cleanup process and look for problematic areas over language. The lawsuit sped this process up,” says Gray.

The contract in Brighton is not the only one containing questionable language. A recent survey of teacher collective bargaining agreements by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy found one-quarter to have questionable right-to-work language. Another study found 60 percent could be in violation of earlier laws prohibiting certain subjects for collective bargaining and certain teacher placement practices.

Like Brighton, the collective bargaining agreement in Okemos calls for payroll deduction of union fees, a practice outlawed in 2012.

Asked what advice he might have for such districts, Gray says it is not his place to offer any.

“Each district is different and has to make their own decisions locally through their established processes,” says Gray.

Neuman says he is glad to be able to focus on teaching and that the district and other teachers treated him respectfully and showed him support during this process.

A video of the launch of the lawsuit:

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.