Executive Summary

This paper examines how public school districts responded to Michigan's 2012 “right-to-work” law. It describes the key findings from reviews of more than 500 teacher collective bargaining agreements. It also raises several questions about the legality of some union contracts with regard to this new law.

Public Act 349 of 2012 stipulates that public employees cannot be fired for refusing to financially support a union. Though the law was passed in December 2012, it did not take effect until March 28, 2013. During this four-month window, school districts and their local unions could create or extend collective bargaining contracts that would require teachers to continue paying union dues or fees as a condition of employment. This paper finds that many districts and unions fast-tracked negotiations in order to ratify a collective bargaining agreement before Public Act 349 became effective.

Among districts with collective bargaining agreements that took effect after March 28, 2013, approximately 75 percent removed mandatory dues language entirely. Both legal and policy questions are raised by the remaining 25 percent of districts, which kept mandatory dues language in one way or another, despite having a contract that took effect or was modified after the law's effective date.

These questions are organized into five categories: 1) Districts that made no apparent changes to their contract and kept mandatory dues language; 2) districts that created a separate agreement outside of their collective bargaining agreement to require mandatory dues payment; 3) districts that ratified a contract before March 28, 2013, but delayed the contract's effective date; 4) districts that ratified a contract before March 28, 2013, but delayed the effective date of part of the contract; and 5) districts that modified their collective bargaining agreements after March 28, 2013, without removing mandatory dues language.

More than 10,000 teachers work in districts with collective bargaining agreements that fall into one of the above categories. As collective bargaining agreements signed before March 28, 2013, continue to expire or are modified, more teachers will be impacted if the issues identified are not resolved.

Mechanisms for resolving these questionable contracts are discussed, including state guidance for districts and increased penalties for districts that violate the law. Policymakers might consider increasing the fiscal penalty for unions and public employers who violate Public Act 349, creating a financial reward for districts that comply or using the state’s emergency manager law to hold school districts accountable for compliance with this new law.