On Dec. 11, 2012, Gov. Rick Snyder signed Public Act 349, which significantly changed public sector collective bargaining in Michigan. This law protected public employees, such as public school teachers, from being forced to financially support a union as a condition of their employment.[1]

The law did not take effect until March 28, 2013, however, which meant that public employers, such as school districts, and public sector unions could ratify new collective bargaining agreements that could still require public employees to financially support a union as a condition of employment for several years to come.[2]

Steven Cook, the president of Michigan’s largest public sector employee union, the Michigan Education Association, characterized the law as “Freedom to Freeload,” and stated in a letter to union members:

[O]ur goal is to settle, extend or modify contracts with school districts…So long as agreements are in place [before the law goes into effect] that include [mandatory financial support of the union], they are legal and remain in effect for the length of the agreement.[3]

Within the first year of the passage of Public Act 349, 234 Michigan school districts agreed to new collective bargaining agreements. Of those, 76 were signed between Dec. 11, 2012, and March 28, 2013. This deluge represents almost one-third of all contracts signed during the 12-month period after PA 349 was signed.

Graphic 1 shows the number of contracts signed each month during this 12-month period. In March of 2013, 58 contracts were signed, 35 percent more than were signed in any other month that year. These figures suggest that the large volume of contracts signed in early 2013 was a direct response to Public Act 349.

Graphic 1: Number of Teachers Union Contracts Signed Between Dec. 2012 and Nov. 2013

Graphic 1: Number of Teachers Union Contracts Signed Between Dec. 2012 and Nov. 2013 - click to enlarge

This report is part of a continued effort by the Mackinac Center to investigate how school districts and their local unions chose to implement Michigan’s recent school reforms. Previously published work suggests that school district compliance with state collective bargaining reforms is varied, at best. In some cases, state law appears to be ignored entirely.

In March 2014, a study titled “Roadblocks to Reform?: A Review of Union Contracts in Michigan Schools,” found that more than 17 percent of the surveyed districts appeared to be disregarding 2011 laws that modified some of the state’s collective bargaining statutes. Altogether, about 60 percent of districts kept language in their union contracts that the 2011 laws appear to have prohibited.[4] Similarly, a 2012 review of 104 union contracts found that 81 districts — more than three-quarters of those surveyed — appeared to be disregarding a 2010 law requiring districts to use a performance-based pay system for teachers.[5]

For this survey of compliance with Public Act 349, the Mackinac Center reviewed all available district collective bargaining agreements that impact teachers in public school districts.[*] Under state law, districts are required to post their current collective bargaining agreements online, and this was the primary source of information in this report.[6] A total of 509 contracts were reviewed.

This report summarizes how school districts chose to comply with the law and identifies legal and policy issues raised by some of their contracts. These issues were found in 57 teacher contracts, or nearly 25 percent of the number of the contracts signed or modified within the first year after Public Act 349 was signed into law.[†]

This research demonstrates how districts and their unions chose to respond to Public Act 349, and should interest policymakers concerned about the implementation of Michigan’s relatively new “right-to-work” law. The final section of this paper discusses policy options for legislators to improve the execution of this law among Michigan school districts.

[*] This survey was conducted in May 2013. Some changes in district collective bargaining agreements may have occurred between the end of May 2013 and the publication of this report.

[†] This tally includes 212 districts with collective bargaining agreements that went into effect after Dec. 11, 2012, and six districts that modified their contracts thereafter.