Armada Area Schools has unenforceable language in teacher contract
Teachers in Armada Area Schools are required to pay union dues or fees for nine more years, according to a letter of agreement signed by the district and Michigan Education Association officials.
But Armada's superintendent says that although the language is in the contract, it isn't enforceable.
A teacher in Armada would not have an easy time figuring out whether they could opt out of the union. Nothing in the contract says teachers can choose not to pay the dues.
The union security clause in the Armada teachers’ contract lasts until 2023, seven years after Armada's main contract expires. The union security clause states that teachers must pay union dues or a service fee to the union “as a condition of employment.”
Armada Superintendent Michael Musary said despite the union service agreement being in the contract until 2023, one teacher has opted out of the union under right-to-work.
Musary said the school board and the union had a mutual agreement and believed it was “in the best interests of the school district” to keep the language in the contract even though it was not being enforced.
Patrick Wright, vice president for legal affairs at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, doesn’t agree with keeping illegal language in contracts if it isn’t enforceable.
“It puts the teacher in a very difficult situation,” Wright said. “If you are a teacher, you are trying to figure out, ‘What do I do?’ It forces every teacher to become a constitutional lawyer.”
Wright offered up some other hypothetical illegal language.
"What if a foolish district put in the contract that they are going to discriminate based on race and sex?" Wright asked. "Everyone knows that is illegal. They can figure it out, right? That’s a little over the top, but it gets the point across. Why put illegal language in contracts?”
The original Armada teachers’ contract was agreed upon May, 17, 2011, and went from Sept. 1, 2011, to Aug. 31, 2013.
Michigan's right-to-work law went into effect on March 28, 2013, and any new deals signed after that date are subject to the new law.
A new teachers’ contract was negotiated and “entered into” on March 6, 2013, and expires in August of 2016.
The teachers’ contract, however, has a letter-of-agreement that states that on the “effective” date of this teachers’ contract, a union security clause is in place until Aug. 31, 2023 – some seven years after the new teachers’ contract expires. That letter of understanding is signed Aug. 20, 2013.
That union security clause agreement’s letter-of-understanding states the union agreement takes effect “immediately upon ratification.” The contract doesn’t have a ratification date, but the Board of Education meeting minutes show that the district approved a collective bargaining agreement with teachers on March 19, 2013.
The rest of the contract states that the terms and conditions of the contract “shall be in full force and effect” on Sept. 1, 2013.
Jan Lee, a teacher and union representative who signed the teachers’ contract Aug. 20, 2013, did not reply to a request for comment.