Angela Steffke, Nancy
Rhatigan, and Rebecca Metz - click to enlarge

The Michigan Court of Appeals recently sided with the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation and struck a major blow to a high-profile attempt by a labor union to thwart right to work for ten years in the Taylor School District.

A lot can change in ten years. Ten years ago we didn’t have smart phones, for example. The way we do things can change dramatically in just ten years. Yet if one union, the Taylor Federation of Teachers, got its way, one thing would not change in the next ten years for the members it represents. For ten long years, they would be bound by the same dubious contract that denies them their freedom under right-to-work, and for ten years they would be forced to pay union dues and fees while teachers in other districts exercised their freedom and saved thousands of dollars. The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation made sure that this union wasn’t allowed to keep those teachers trapped in the past.

When Michigan passed its right-to-work law in December of 2012, unions immediately mobilized to thwart this policy any way they could. Because the law would not take effect until three months later, they had time to renegotiate and make new contracts that would thwart workers’ freedoms and force them to continue paying union dues and fees for years. At the same time the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation was gearing up to defend workers’ rights and take on any contract which exceeded what the law would allow.

Three teachers in the Taylor School District, Angela Steffke, Nancy Rhatigan, and Rebecca Metz, approached the legal foundation with one of the most egregious collective bargaining agreements around. Totally apart from the usual collective bargaining agreement, the federation and the school district made a so-called “union security” agreement which forced teachers to pay dues or fees to the union for ten years after right-to-work was enacted to end this practice. 

After almost two years of litigation, the Michigan Employment Relations Commission ruled that the security agreement was invalid and that the teachers could exercise their rights under right-to-work. The commission expressed its view of what the union had done this way:  “Imposing a lengthy financial burden on bargaining unit members, in order to avoid the application of a state law for ten years, is arbitrary, indifferent and reckless. Therefore, we hold that the union committed an unfair labor practice. …”

The union and school district, of course, immediately appealed the decision. As soon as they filed their appeal, they also filed a request for a ‘stay’ — a judicial order which would have frozen the status quo so that the Taylor teachers could not enjoy their hard-won freedoms until at least the appellate process ended a year or more later. 

But the Court of Appeals agreed with us and denied the stay. These three Taylor Teachers and their colleagues can exercise the same freedoms that other teachers around the state now enjoy. To be sure, there is always a chance that the Court of Appeals will agree with the union and overturn the victory gained in the commission. But for now, the Taylor teachers have their freedom.