Michigan’s right-to-work law, which took effect late last week, has done little so far to prevent unions across the state from locking in contracts that obligate employees to continue paying dues for the foreseeable future.
Right-to-work was signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder last December, ostensibly giving all Michigan employees the right to opt-out of joining a union or paying dues. But the three-month delay between the law’s creation and its implementation gave public unions a window to get far-reaching contracts approved by sympathetic government agencies, including school districts and universities.
Some 50 school districts approved new union contracts prior to the March 28th deadline, forcing members to continue supporting the union.
“They have locked in teachers and other school employees from being able to exercise these rights for several years,” said Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The Mackinac Center has filed suit on behalf of three teachers in Taylor, Michigan whose new contract included a union security agreement that would obligate them to continue paying dues for 10 years.
And Taylor was no exception. Another district, Warren Consolidated Schools, approved an eight-year contract. Several others approved contracts that will last for four or five years.
Before right-to-work, contracts lasting longer than three years were atypical, said Van Beek.
“Any deal that’s over three years is really pretty abnormal, especially since the trend with collective bargaining has been toward shorter and shorter contracts, and three years is really seen as quite a long time,” he said. “But in trying to avoid right-to-work, they went to 4 5, 6, 8, 10 year contracts.”
Republicans who backed right-to-work admit that they can’t do anything to stop school districts and universities from catering to the unions.
“It maybe meets the letter of the law, but it certainly circumvents the will of the law and what the legislature said last year,” said Rep. Joe Haveman, a Republican, in an interview with The DC News Foundation.
Still, some members of the state House of Representatives think they might have a way to punish the wayward districts and universities.. A bill recently passed the appropriations subcommittee that would enact a 10 percent funding cut on any public entity that approved a long-term contract locking in employees’ union dues.
For Michigan’s largest public universities, that’s quite a cut. The University of Michigan would lose $47 million, and Wayne State University would lose $27 million.
There are cases that I think the governing bodies basically sold out the taxpayer and the parents of students,” said Haveman. “They weren’t going to seek concessions, they just wanted to extend the life of the dues. We believe there should be accountability.”
Haveman expected that the final appropriations bill would include the 10 percent funding cut holding districts and universities accountable for their contracts. But the bill would still have to be approved by the state Senate, which was less enthusiastic about taking such action against schools.
“I’m going to be real cautious with anything that has to do with tying appropriations to local decisions,” said Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, a Republican, in a statement to The Detroit Free Press.
Van Beek was skeptical that the legislature would ultimately take any action.
“It’s an idea that’s been floated right now but… a lot of these things change over the course of several months as they figure all this out,” he said. “From what I’ve seen, I would be somewhat surprised if any of that made it into the final budget and school districts actually had their funds reduced for signing these contracts.”
Unions’ attempts to thwart right-to-work don’t stop with contract extensions. A coalition of union leaders, Democratic state senators, and the ACLU of Michigan have filed a suit accusing Republican lawmakers of violating the Michigan Open Meetings Act during the passage of right-to-work. During debate over the bill, police closed the Capitol to the public out of concerns that the building was structurally unprepared to accommodate the number of protesters that showed up. Eight people were arrested during the protest, according to MLive.
Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit.
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