Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013
Media Relations Manager
MIDLAND — The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation today filed suit in Wayne County Circuit Court against the Taylor Federation of Teachers-Local 1085, the Taylor School District Board of Education and the Taylor School District on behalf of three teachers in the district who object to a union security clause that would force them to financially support the union for the next decade.
“This is really a union insecurity clause because rather than proving its worth to members, the union is forcing all teachers to continue paying dues or agency fees through 2023,” said Senior Attorney Derk Wilcox. “This is a desperate attempt by the union to circumvent Michigan’s right-to-work law and preserve its own power at the expense of teachers.”
The MCLF is representing Angela Steffke, Rebecca Metz and Nancy Rhatigan, all of whom have taught in Taylor for several years. The district and union had been working without a contract since 2010, and the district was forced to file a deficit elimination plan with the state in light of a self-created $14 million overspending crisis. A new four-year contract was ratified in early February, along with a separate 10-year dues clause. Such clauses are generally part of an overall collective bargaining agreement, rather than a stand-alone agreement.
“The union is throwing teachers under the proverbial school bus with a contract that includes a 10 percent pay cut just to continue padding its coffers,” Wilcox said. “This is the same union that thought it was a good use of its members’ dues money to spend $125,000 on the failed Proposal 2 ballot measure. The president of AFT Michigan got a 20 percent bump in total compensation. Our clients simply don’t want what the union is selling.”
The TFT also received an “award” from AFT-Michigan for causing 7,500 students to miss school on Dec. 11, 2012, as the district was forced to close during a teacher “sick-out” that was used to protest right-to-work legislation at the Capitol.
Steffke, a special education teacher, said she thinks the union and the district “colluded and conspired to circumvent” Michigan’s freedom to work law.
“This is about our civil rights,” she said. “This is about fighting for our freedom of association and fighting against coercion in the work place.”
Rhatigan, who also teaches special education, points out the irony of the timing, noting that teacher layoffs started less than three weeks after the new contract was approved.
“People didn’t realize they could have voted down the union clause because it was a separate issue from the contract,” she said. “As teachers, we instruct our students to speak out and stand up for what’s right. I am willing to practice what I preach. I’m exercising my right to protest. I protest paying dues to a union that thinks working without a contract for two years and then accepting a 10 percent decrease in wages is acceptable.”
Metz, an English teacher, explains that she is not anti-union, but she objects to being forced into one.
“People should have the right to make their own decision about joining a union,” she said. “I understand our district is facing financial difficulties and the four-year contract can help solve that, but I don’t see any benefit to a 10-year union clause. I respect the TFT’s executive board, our negotiating team and my fellow union members, but I resent having my money used to prop up political positions and candidates I do not support.”
The MCLF is asking the court to rule that the insecurity clause is invalid and void, or in the alternative that the clause only be found valid if it lasts for the same length of time as the four-year collective bargaining agreement.
“It’s as if the union has put teachers in a dues purgatory,” Wilcox noted. “They’ve been sentenced to pay the union for an extended period of time or be fired. If the union truly cared about teachers, it would let them decide for themselves as per Michigan law, rather than treating them like children.”
For more information on this case, please see www.mackinac.org/18331.