Teachers fight back after union locks in dues payments for next 10 years

Robby Soave | Reporter

A school district is attempting to force teachers to pay union dues for the next 10 years, despite being located in Michigan, which is now a right-to-work state that specifically prohibits mandatory unionization.

Michigan became the 24th right-to-work state in December. But the law doesn’t take effect until March 28 — giving unions time to grandfather in their contracts if they can get them approved before the deadline. As part of this effort, the Taylor School District approved an entirely separate “union security agreement” that will force teachers to keep paying the union until 2023.

Under the security agreement, teachers’ only options will be to pay union dues, or pay an agency fee amounting to about $800 a year.

But three Taylor teachers who want to leave the union said enough is enough.

“I believe it is unfair of the union to have a security clause that requires me to be a member for 10 years,” said Rebecca Metz, a Taylor teacher, in a statement.

Metz, along with fellow teachers Angela Steffke and Nancy Rhatigan, is suing to block implementation the 10-year dues extension.

A lawyer representing the three teachers framed the issue as a clear case of a union and a school district attempting to thwart the will of the legislature.

“The legislature has said that you should not have to pay any money to a union, whether it be agency fees or dues, as a condition of employment,” said Derk Wilcox, senior attorney at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s Legal Foundation, in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation. “This is definitely a way to try to get around that and keep people paying the unions as long as they can.”

While it’s unclear how the Wayne County Circuit Court will rule, the best outcome for the three teachers would likely involve tossing out the 10-year security agreement. If that happens, they would still be bound to the union’s collective bargaining agreement, which was also approved by the district in advance of the March 28 deadline. This agreement lasts until 2017.

Slamming teachers with an additional commitment that last beyond the collective bargaining agreement is itself illegal, according to Wilcox.

“In Michigan we have a statute which disallows side agreements that continue on in effect after the collective bargaining agreements expire,” he said.

Metz, Steffke, and Rhatigan don’t like the collective bargaining agreement, either. It forces them to accept 10 percent pay cuts even though the salaries of top union leaders — such as David Hecker, president of the Michigan chapter of the American Federation of Teachers — increased in recent years.

“Our rights should not be hindered nor denied because the union wants to insure a constant revenue flow while bargaining away our salaries and benefits with impunity,” said Steffke in a statement.

State Rep. Tom McMillin, the Republican chairman of the Michigan House Oversight Committee, asked Taylor district administrators to come to Lansing and explain why they approved the security agreement. No one showed up, McMillin told The Washington Examiner.

“I can’t understand why they are scared to come explain it to us since apparently they believe it’s a great deal,” said McMillin in a statement. “Unless, maybe it’s not so great after all. I’ve never heard of any school having a 10-year contract with teachers.”

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