Fifty-four and still counting. That's how many public school districts are known to have signed contracts that dodge the new right-to-work law.
Michigan's law was passed and signed in December and freed workers from having to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment.
However, the law didn't take effect until March 28, which created a window for unions to work with public school administrators to lock members into long-term contracts. If school districts agreed to new contracts before March 28, teachers and other affected employees are forced to keep paying the union for the life of the contract. Several new contract agreements were for two or three years while others were signed for up to 10 years.
"If a contract was likely to have been agreed to regardless of the right-to-work law, it is not included in our count," said Michael Van Beek, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. "Some of the districts did more than one contract, but we're still only counting them once. Our count does include ISDs (intermediate school districts).
"Some of the contracts just involved support staff," Van Beek added. "But the vast majority covered teachers. At this point I think it's safe to say that close to 20 percent of the teachers in Michigan have been affected."
Van Beek emphasized that the count is not complete. He said that the Mackinac Center is using the Freedom of Information Act to help compile its list.
House Speaker Jase Bolger, R- Marshall, said the issue he and his colleagues are concerned about is accountability.
"Right-to-work and contract negotiations have several things in common, including the fact that neither should be about partisan politics and both should focus on how taxpayers, students, and workers will benefit," Rep. Bolger said. "There have been no threats, and there is no discussion of any retaliation for schools that chose to open contracts or negotiate long-term deals.
"There is, however, a focus on accountability to taxpayers, students and teachers," he said. "Therefore, the state budget in the House will seek to continue that focus and our discussion will be about how we should hold schools accountable for their responsibilities to their customers. Local schools had every right to negotiate the contracts as they wish, just like the Legislature has every right to seek accountability for taxpayers in the budgets we pass."
Of the 54 known right-to-work-dodging agreements, the one in Taylor has raised many flags and prompted three teachers to file a lawsuit against their union and the school district. The Taylor Federation of Teachers collective bargaining agreement was for four years, but a separate agreement locked its teachers into paying dues and fees for the next 10 years. The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation is representing Angela Steffke, Nancy Rhatigan and Rebecca Metz over that arrangement.
The following is a list of the school districts that have signed agreements avoiding the right-to-work law.
Alcona, Ann Arbor, Avondale, Belding, Berrian Springs, Bridgeman, Chippewa Hills, Clarkston, Coldwater, Columbia, Dearborn Heights, Detroit Public Schools, Dexter, East China, Escanaba, Gegebic-Ontonogon ISD, Grand Rapids, Grandville, Greenville, Grosse Pointe, Hartland, Hastings, Holton, Homer, Holly, Hudson Valley, Hudson Area, Ida School District, Kalamazoo, Kaleva Norman Dickson, L'Anse, Lansing, Linden, Madison, Marquette Alger RESA, Midland, Millington, Mt. Clemens, Parchment, Pinkney, Romeo, Royal Oak, Saginaw Public, Southgate, South Lyon, South Redford, Taylor, Utica, Van Dyke, Wakefield–Mareniso, Warren Consolidated, Warren Woods, Waverly, and Wyoming.
Michigan Education Association spokesman Doug Pratt did not respond to a request for comment.
Editor's note: This story has been edited since its original publication. Escanaba has been added to the list and Zeeland has been removed. Zeeland completed its contract after the right-to-work deadline.