News Story

Union Approves Contract Freezing Members’ Salaries to Keep the Dues Flowing

Midland paraprofessional union urges district to violate law to get fees

Based on his employee evaluations, Bob Mroczek is the type of person you want in the classroom with students.

As a paraprofessional, Mroczek’s evaluation includes the following comments from teachers:

  • “Wonderful with the students! Willing to do whatever asked! Shows a positive attitude and is very helpful!”
  • “I don’t care where you schedule Bob. Just don’t take him from my class.”
  • “Can you clone Bob?”

His supervisor concluded an evaluation: “Clearly, Mr. Mroczek’s contributions to H.H. Dow [High School] are recognized by students and colleagues. We hope he is able to return to the role of paraprofessional next year even though we appreciate his willingness to step in and help Midland Public Schools in whatever capacity he is needed.”

But one entity doesn’t want him in the classroom: His local union. At least not if he isn’t paying them money.

In January of 2012, the Midland Federation of Paraprofessionals signed a contract with Midland Public Schools that froze salaries and step increases through the end of the school year because of a budget crunch for the district. In December of 2012, the Legislature passed the state’s right-to-work law, which would go into effect on March 28, 2013 and apply once current contracts expired.

To avoid the law and force paraprofessionals in Midland to pay them money for a few more years, the union signed a new contract with the district on March 26, 2013. The only changes to the contract: Step increases and raises for union members would be frozen another few years, until the end of the 2014-15 school year. In other words, the MFP approved a contract freezing their members’ salaries in order to keep dues flowing to them.

This didn’t sit well with Mroczek, who is represented by the MFP. He has worked for Midland Public Schools for five years, makes $10.53 per hour, and doesn’t feel like he benefits from the union. He stopped paying dues to the organization, instead writing a check to a fund benefiting the district.

In December of 2013, MFP President Paula Young-Anderson and MFP Treasurer Lorraine Hawkins sent a letter to Mroczek asking for his dues or fees. He refused, responding that they could notify the district if they believed he was violating the contract and should be fired.

The union did not respond and Mroczek was not laid off, continuing to work 29 hours per week.

But in January of 2015 he was informed that at the request of the union, the district would start automatically deducting dues from his paycheck. He informed his supervisor that he had a new job opportunity that would run through April and he would resign. His supervisor wanted him to come back in May, so Mroczek came to an agreement with the district to continue working two hours per week in order to keep his hourly pay the same for when he returned.

But though he was working only a few hours per week, Mroczek said the union got the district to take out more money than he owes in dues by basing his fees on the 29 hours per week he was previously working.

“During the weeks I was working only two hours, the union started taking out [the full dues amount] per pay period,” Mroczek said. “I had a couple [pay periods] where the union requested dues payments for hours I didn’t work.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential obtained a letter sent from union treasurer Hawkins to the district’s human resources department.

“I have noticed that Robert Mroczek, a para at Dow High, has missed two pay periods where dues deductions were not taken out because of lack of work hours,” Hawkins wrote in April. “I'd appreciate it if you please make sure that he makes up those amounts in his future payroll checks, and any other paras that miss a union deduction.”

When contacted about the situation, Midland Public Schools Superintendent Michael Sharrow said that the district entered into a letter of agreement on advice from a union attorney to collect dues from those who refused to pay union dues or fees through the length of the contract.

“I have had that letter of agreement reviewed by legal counsel since you contacted me since I believed this was illegal,” Sharrow said. “Legal counsel has agreed the letter of agreement is illegal. It is my understanding MPS and the association were attempting to avoid dismissing employees [for violating the contract]. There was another scheduled withdraw of dues next week. We have stopped that withdrawal.”

Because the union and school district opened the paraprofessional contract in 2013, after a state law banning the practice went into effect, it is illegal for the district to automatically withdraw dues or fees.

Mroczek said he and others plan on leaving the union in a few weeks when the contract expires on June 30.

"People are lining up," Mroczek said.

MFP leaders Young-Anderson and Hawkins did not return 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.