News Story

Michigan Teachers Union Suffers Important Court Defeat

State Court of Appeals says right-to-work law means what it says on compulsory union dues and fees

The Michigan Court of Appeals this week ruled that a teacher has the right to stop paying fees to the union at his workplace despite its refusal to allow him to do so.

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, which represented teacher Ronald Robinson in his legal fight against the union, said the decision further enhances Michigan’s right-to-work law.

“The court ruled that these tricks couldn’t stop the teachers from exercising their rights under the right-to-work law,” Derk Wilcox, an attorney with the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, said in an email.

The court said that the Michigan Education Association and the Ann Arbor Education Association committed an unfair labor practice by continuing to charge Robinson fees after he opted out of the union following the passage of Michigan’s right-to-work law.

A few days before the law went into effect in March 2013, the union local and the school district agreed to extend their collective bargaining contracts until 2016, effectively exempting the union from the law until the revised contracts expired. But in 2014 and 2015, the union and the district revised those renewed contracts, which according to the right-to-work law, made them subject to right-to-work requirements.

According to the law, “an agreement, contract, understanding, or practice that takes effect or is extended or renewed after March 28, 2013,” is subject to the law’s prohibition on compelling employees to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. This means that after the Ann Arbor contracts were changed, all workers who wanted to should have been able to opt out of paying union dues or fees.

Despite the law, Robinson – who had been a teacher for 24 years – was still forced to pay the union. Robinson said he feared he’d have his credit destroyed by the union’s collection agency if he didn’t pay.

“The MEA paid its collection agency over $152,500 last year,” Robinson said in a statement. “How many teachers’ credit scores have they destroyed?”

The appeals court upheld an April 2018 decision by Michigan Employment Relations Commission, a state agency that also ruled in favor of Robinson.

Robinson said he opted out of the union because he believes it protects bad teachers, is slow to respond to grievances from members and doesn’t negotiate higher pay or benefits.

“Ronald Robinson is a decorated teacher who did everything he was supposed to [do] to resign from the union,” Wilcox said. “Yet the union kept coming after him to collect fees anyway. Now he is free from the union’s [demands] that he pay them when he is no longer a member.”

Because the case was decided in a state court with an unpublished decision, Wilcox said, the precedent will not extend much further than Ann Arbor schools, but it does show workers elsewhere that they can challenge unions and win.

The appellate court decision was made March 19.

“This ruling by the Michigan Court of Appeals upholds right-to-work protections for workers laid out clearly in state law,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, in a press release. “Time and again, Michigan union bosses have demonstrated that they will stop at nothing to obtain membership dues and union fees from the workers they supposedly represent, regardless of workers’ wishes.”