Mackinac Takes on Ann Arbor Teachers Union in Right-to-Work Case

Ron Robinson teaches science in Ann Arbor Public Schools.

The MEA has tried several tactics to keep the teachers under its control from exercising their rights under right-to-work. The statewide union refused to accept resignations except during the month of August under a policy it had not made known to its members. Then it enacted other roadblocks, such as changing the mailing address for letters of resignation. In Ann Arbor, it tried something else. 

Ron Robinson is an accomplished science teacher. He was honored as National Educator of the Week by the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse and was just one of three high school teachers to be accepted to an astronomy project supported by the National Science Foundation. He is also the director of the first and longest-running high school planetarium in the country. 

Yet as smart as he is, Robinson couldn’t figure out why he wasn't able to exercise his right-to-work rights. His district’s union agreement ended in June 2015, and a new contract was reached in August 2015. Right-to-work was supposed to take effect any time a contract was made or renewed after March 2013. Robinson resigned in August 2015, but the union said he still had to pay agency fees. Under right-to-work, though, employees can no longer be required to pay those fees.

Ann Arbor teachers had been without a fully written contract since 2011. According to press reports, the MEA’s local affiliate, the Ann Arbor Education Association, did not want to write out a new contract. The reason: The new contract would have to incorporate all the education reforms the state had enacted since 2011. A new contract would mean changes to teacher evaluations, a ban on affirmative action, a new merit pay system and emphasizing teacher competency over seniority. The union local resisted the reforms and justified its actions by saying Ann Arbor’s progressive values allowed it to ignore state laws. Its president said, “We can’t understand why the district … [is] aligning with Lansing on limiting teacher rights. The stance is contradictory, hypocritical, and out-of-step with our community’s values.”

But refusing to write a new contract had a consequence. The Ann Arbor union and the school system needed a new written contract in place before March 28, 2013, if they wanted not to comply with the right-to-work law. So they created a series of partial contracts and, apparently, claimed that none of them formed the basis of the general collective bargaining agreement. One of the partial contracts had a clause extending the agency-fee requirement until 2016. Then, after a new collective bargaining agreement was made in 2015, the union claimed that the agency-fee clause continued on its own — obligating Robinson and others to continue paying.

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation strongly disagreed with the unions’ arguments and advocated on Robinson’s behalf before the Michigan Employment Relations Commission on May 18. It filed a brief on his behalf on June 3. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.