One of the functions of a labor union is to represent employees in disputes with the employer. The MEA is obligated to represent its members in cases where an employee is wrongly disciplined or discharged, or otherwise treated in a manner contrary to the labor contract. However, the union is under no obligation to pursue cases that lack merit or are economically unfeasible to pursue.
Instead of exercising sound judgment on these matters, the MEA has pursued some very questionable discharge cases, costing school districts exorbitant amounts of money in legal fees, money that could have been used in the classroom for education. Worse, huge back pay awards and even reinstatement of truly bad teachers have made a mockery of the procedural protections that were intended to shield good teachers from arbitrary or capricious decisions. Acting as if it must mount a legal defense for every discharged teacher, the MEA has pursued actions against school districts without regard to whether it is in the best interest of the school, the children, the community, or other teachers.
One of the most egregious examples occurred in 1980 and continued until 1993. The case, Ann Arbor Bd of Ed v Abrahams, 202 Mich App 121, 507 NW2d 802 (1993), involved an Ann Arbor gym teacher who was accused by six female students of sexual advances. Mr. Abrahams was fired for unprofessional conduct after five of the six students testified that he had exposed himself and made sexual advances towards them.
Mr. Abrahams, however, was a tenured teacher and challenged his discharge under the Teacher Tenure Act. Although Mr. Abrahams never testified in his own defense to the school board, his accusers were cross-examined. The school board found the testimony credible, but the MEA took up the case in Abraham’s defense.
In 1984, while the case was still pending, Mr. Abrahams got into an argument with his wife. After punching her in the face, he chased her into their front lawn and killed her with an ax.
The MEA continued to pursue the case, and after 13 years of constant litigation, the MEA won. Through the MEA’s determined effort, the Ann Arbor school district was forced to spend over $156,500 in legal fees and pay the convicted murderer nearly $200,000 in back pay.
Fearing such legal action from the labor union, school officials often engage in many inefficient and expensive practices, such as not discharging poor performing teachers, buying out poor performing teachers instead of just firing them, and giving good recommendations for poor performing teachers seeking employment at another school just to get rid of them.