News Story

Union Threatens School District for Removing Illegal Language From Contracts

MEA sent 'cease and desist' letter to superintendent

The Michigan Education Association has threatened to file an unfair labor practice complaint against the Northport Public Schools superintendent because of conversations he had with local union officials over removing illegal language discovered in the district's labor contract.

The contract, signed on June 24, 2013, states: “Each bargaining unit member shall, as a condition of employment … join the Association (union) or pay a service fee to the Association.” Under the Michigan right-to-work law enacted in 2012, workers in a unionized workplace can no longer be forced to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. Union contracts that were in place when the law became effective at the end of March 2013 must expire for the right-to-work law to take effect.

Mary McGee-Cullen, a MEA Uniserv Director, sent the Dec. 8 letter that stated, “If there is language that is unenforceable then it is just that, unenforceable. We look forward to working with you through the negotiations process upon expiration of said agreements. In the meantime, cease and desist all further conversations with members pertaining to this issue and direct all communications to me as I am their MEA representative.”

The teachers' contract expires Aug. 31, 2016. The contract for bus drivers, food service personnel and paraprofessionals also includes illegal language, and also expires in 2016.

McGree-Cullen did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Northport Superintendent Chris Parker has said previously that the district recognized language in the contract was unenforceable, and that he was not hired by the district until after it was approved on June 24, 2013. Parker says he had an agreement with the head of the teachers’ union local to remove the illegal language, but the letter from the statewide union halted this. The superintendent was told by the local union representatives that the MEA would allow the contract to be re-opened, but the district would have to agree to a 1-percent across-the-board raise.

Parker said he is just going to “let it go” and make sure the illegal language is not included in future contracts.

Audrey Spalding, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the MEA was wrong.

“MEA officials worked to keep contract language that could be used to deceive teachers,” Spalding said. “And instead of correcting this mistake, the MEA is threatening the superintendent. No matter what the MEA thinks, or who it bullies, Northport is a right-to-work district, and teachers cannot be fired for choosing to leave their union.”

A September 2014 study authored by Spalding found 57 school districts had union contracts that were ratified after Michigan’s right-to-work law took effect contained language raising legal and policy questions about how the districts were implementing Public Act 349 (right-to-work). The law only affects union contracts signed after it went into effect. Between the law's passage and its effective date many local school districts and their unions signed new or amended agreements intended to preserve the union's power to extract dues or fee payments from workers as a condition of employment.

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.