News Story

Union Gave Teachers Pay Cut To Keep Compulsory Dues Coming

A few whistle-blowing teachers sued and — three years later — they won

Taylor teachers Angela Steffke, Nancy Rhatigan and Rebecca Metz.

A recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision held that the Taylor public school district and teachers union colluded to cut employee pay to benefit the union itself, not its members.

As Michigan Capitol Confidential previously reported, the court wrote that the Taylor Federation of Teachers “took deliberate action, in entering into the union security agreement to its own financial advantage,” and that in going along, the school district acted with “hostility” toward employees. The agreement required employees to pay union dues for another 10 years, in spite of a new Michigan right-to-work law that bans making union dues a condition of employment.

The “hostility” to employees was seen in a big pay cut contained in a collective bargaining agreement the union and school district entered into “almost contemporaneously” with the union dues deal.

Taylor teachers Angela Steffke, Rebecca Metz and Nancy Rhatigan challenged the deal in Wayne County Circuit Court in February 2013 and were represented by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation. The case was later referred to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, a state agency that has jurisdiction over some public union matters.

The commission ruled in favor the teachers, and the Dec. 13 appeals court judgment upheld the commission’s ruling. The court noted that the union’s collective bargaining agreement hurt the wages and benefits of Taylor’s teachers and was done for “its own financial advantage.”

The collective bargaining and union security agreements were executed just days before Michigan's right-to-work law went into effect on March 28, 2013. The timing was critical because the new law only applies to union contracts signed after its effective date.

“This agreement was signed almost contemporaneously with a collective bargaining agreement that included a 10 percent reduction in wages, suspension of pay increases, and other conditions that negatively impacted the wages and benefits of the teacher employees of the school district,” the court’s opinion said.

Steffke said on Tuesday that teachers were told around the time of bargaining that the pay cuts would benefit the district. Yet a deficit still occurred.

“We were promised that the pay cut we took in 2013 would get the district out of deficit and they would stay that way,” she said. “But they were back in deficit this past spring.”

Steffke also noted that teachers actually lost 13 percent of their pay when other fees are included.

“There was a 3 percent that had been taken out of our pay for about three years” for retirement or retirement health services, Steffke said.

Rhatigan, a second plaintiff, said she’s pleased with the outcome. On Monday, she told the union and the school district that she would no longer be a member.

Derk Wilcox, a senior attorney for the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation who represented the teachers in the case, said the union gave up a lot just to dodge Michigan’s right-to-work law.

"After going nearly three years without a collective bargaining agreement, the school district and the Taylor Federation of Teachers rushed into a new agreement before the right-to-work deadline,” he said. “Beating that deadline was the key factor in getting the union to agree to a new contract, and the union apparently gave up an awful lot to get it."

Mark Cousens, the attorney representing the school district and the union, didn't respond to a request for comment.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which is also the parent organization of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation.