News Story

He Supported Restricting Teachers’ Right To Leave Union, Now Asks DeVos Why Others Help Them Leave

New Jersey politician who sponsored restrictive law upset that Mackinac Center contacted teachers

A New Jersey politician recently wanted U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to explain why Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy was informing public sector employees in his state about their right to stop paying fees to public sector unions.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross brought up the Mackinac Center, which publishes Michigan Capitol Confidential, at a hearing of the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee when DeVos was testifying about the Education Department.

Norcross asked DeVos why the Mackinac Center was contacting unionized public sector workers in New Jersey.

“In reality, teachers are being targeted, spammed, coerced by groups such as the Mackinac Center for Public Policy — that you probably know something about — and from the Freedom Foundation,” Norcross said, according to The Detroit News.

“If teachers are choosing to join unions — why the two foundations that your family’s associated with are the top givers to those groups that are trying to get people to leave? ... Why would you do that?”

But Norcross should know why. In 2018, he sponsored a bill in Congress to repeal states’ authority to enact right-to-work laws, which prohibit compelling workers to pay union fees as a condition of employment.

In the same month Norcross introduced his bill in Congress, the governor of New Jersey signed a state law that restricts workers who want to opt out of paying union fees. It allows them to do so only during the 10 days following the anniversary date of their hiring.

A little more than a month after Norcross’s bill was introduced in Congress and the New Jersey law was signed, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the use of this tactic against public sector employees, including teachers. The Supreme Court ruled that compelling these workers to pay union fees violates their First Amendment rights to free speech and free association.

Following the passage of Michigan’s right-to-work law, the Michigan Education Association enforced a similar restriction for several years. Its policy was to let school employees who wanted to opt out of union fee payments to do so only during the month of August, when most teachers are on summer break. The state labor commission and the Michigan Court of Appeals, however, ruled that the MEA’s opt-out window was illegal. The Michigan Supreme Court refused to hear the union’s appeal.

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation has filed a lawsuit in New Jersey over the state’s restrictive union opt-out law, which is called the Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act.