Court of Appeals Rules Union and District Violated Right-to-Work Law

MERC decision is upheld in a win for Taylor teachers

Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016

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Chantal Lovell
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MIDLAND — The State of Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of three teachers in the Taylor School District who have been fighting since 2013 to exercise their freedom under Michigan’s right-to-work law.

The court affirmed a 2015 ruling by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission in favor of teachers Angela Steffke, Rebecca Metz and Nancy Rhatigan. It agreed that forcing teachers into a 10-year “union security agreement” just before the state’s right-to-work law took effect was “excessive and unreasonable” and an attempt to undermine state law.

“We’re thrilled,” plaintiff Angela Steffke, a special education teacher, said. “The 10-year union security clause prevented us from holding our union accountable. We’re grateful the court affirmed our rights as sovereign individuals within a union and we’re grateful to the Mackinac Center for helping us ensure our right to work.”

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation filed suit in February 2013 on behalf of the teachers against the Taylor Federation of Teachers-Local 1085, the Taylor School District Board of Education and the Taylor School District. Shortly after Michigan’s right-to-work law was signed, but before it took effect, the union and district entered into a new, four-year contract, but also agreed to a separate, 10-year “union security agreement” that forced teachers to pay union dues and fees through 2023.

“We’re thankful the court agreed teachers should not be forced to pay dues or fees to a union they don’t wish to be part of,” said Derk Wilcox, a senior attorney with the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation. “It was clear to us, MERC and the Court of Appeals that the union and school district acted with hostility toward teachers wishing to exercise their rights and tried to circumvent state law by requiring teachers to pay union dues or fees long after right-to-work became law.”

MERC ruled in favor of the teachers in February 2015. The union and the school district refused to accept the MERC ruling, and challenged it in the Court of Appeals.

In the 14-page ruling issued Wednesday, the Court of Appeals said:

We conclude that it was indeed reasonable for MERC to conclude that the union took deliberate action, in entering into the union security agreement to its own financial advantage, that would essentially subvert and undermine the plain language and intent of state law in a manner that was reckless and indifferent to the interests of persons to whom it owed a duty of fair representation.

The court also noted that the 10-year union security agreement was an attempt to, “nullify a state law for the next ten years.” It added that the district discriminated against teachers in favoring the union.

Steffke has remained a member of the union and hasn't made up her mind about continued union membership. "But now I have a choice, and I can exercise that choice,” she said, noting she’s not “anti-union but is anti-cronyism.”

“My union hasn’t effectively advocated for us and if they’re not effective, why should I pay them?” Steffke asked, noting that the contract approved along with the union security agreement included a 10 percent pay cut for teachers. She also objected to the union’s activism. “Why should I pay extra to fund things the union supports that have nothing to do with teaching?”

“Four years after the law passed, it’s time for unions to admit that teachers have the right-to-work,” Wilcox added. “Teachers aren’t just ATMs for union officials and should not be forced to pay dues or fees until 2023, while their colleagues are able to take advantage of their right-to-work freedoms.”

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