The issue involves a requirement that all teachers covered by the collective bargaining agreement pay for so-called “release time” for union representatives.
Release time allows employees who represent the union to work on union business at employer expense. In the case of teachers, it involves leaving the classroom during the school day. Not all teachers covered by the collective bargaining agreement, however, are members of the Brighton Education Association. Employees have the option to opt out of the union under Michigan’s right-to-work law. In this case, the employer wants the union to cover some of this expense. The employer and union agreed to deduct the costs from all covered employees, even those who have chosen not to belong to the union. In addition, this cost is to be deducted from employee paychecks at employer expense.
Chain of Events
In September 2014, Brighton Area Schools and the Brighton Education Association, which represents the district’s teachers, ratified a collective bargaining agreement that includes the following language:
K. The Board, recognizing the value of an effective Association-Board relationship, agrees to assign to the Association President no more than four (4) academic classes (or the equivalent in case of an elementary teacher) and allows that person one (1) hour of released time per day in which to fulfill their responsibility.
2. The cost of the additional release time will be reimbursed by the Association through a payroll deduction plan. All employees in the bargaining unit will pay an equal share of the cost.
3. Payroll deductions under Section L are considered required as a condition of this collective bargaining agreement. The Board will accordingly payroll deduct the appropriate amounts pursuant to the authority set forth in M.C.L.A. 408.477.
In August 2014, as per the Michigan Education Association’s co-called ‘August window,’ teacher Adam Neuman informed the Brighton Education Association he no longer wanted to be a member. The union informed him, and the Brighton superintendent confirmed, that the district would still deduct a fee from Neuman’s paycheck for release time, as required by the contract. Neuman was told he could not stop this deduction, as it was automatic. Neuman contacted the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation to see what legal recourse he may have. On Oct. 15, 2014, he chose to file a claim against the district and union in Livingston County Circuit Court for violating provisions of Michigan’s public-sector labor law.
Adam Neuman is a 40-year-old husband, father and high school social studies teacher who has taught in Brighton Area Schools his entire career. He is a graduate of Brighton High School and Alma College and now teaches civics and Advanced Placement government and politics. He also brings a unique perspective to the job. In 2008, at age 34, he enlisted in the Army Reserves and served in combat during the Kandahar surge in Afghanistan in 2011. He was motivated to join the military because he knew a first responder who died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and because he had heard about some of his former students who had joined the military after graduating from high school who were being called back again into combat under the military’s stop-loss policy. He felt passionate about voluntarily serving in the military himself. One of his jobs was to carry fallen soldiers onto military planes to send them home. This responsibility gave him a special appreciation of liberty that will not allow others, like a union, to trample over his rights.
Neuman chose to leave the union because he felt his money was supporting an organization that opposed his principles, in particular the union’s stance on U.S. military involvement. He also does not like the way unions control public education and how they protect ineffective teachers. He says the military never tolerated incompetence.
The case involves the violation of two Michigan laws, right-to-work and the ban on using public school resources to collect union fees or dues. It also sheds light on the practice of release time, where unions demand union administrative work at employer expense. In schools, taxpayers pick up this expense by having to pay others to cover teaching assignments. It is not uncommon in big districts for union association presidents to spend no time in the classroom. .
MCL 423.210 is Michigan’s right-to-work law. It states:
(3) Except as provided in subsection (4). An individual shall not be required as a condition of obtaining or continuing public employment to do the following:
(b) Become or remain a member of a labor organization or bargaining representative.
(c) Pay any dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses of any kind or amount, or provide anything of value to a labor organization or bargaining representative.
Neuman claims the union and district have no legal right to charge him anything as a non-member.
MCL 423.210(1)(b) states:
A public school employer’s use of public school resources to assist a labor organization in collecting dues or service fees from wages of public school employees is a prohibited contribution to the administration of a labor organization.
Neuman claims the district is violating the law by automatically deducting the fee for release time from his paycheck. There is no option to stop the payment.
The case also tests the limits of Michigan’s “dormant gift-ban clause” in the issue of release time. The clause implies public money cannot be given to private parties, like unions. Strict readers of the law might argue “implied” is not “explicit,” but others might consider such doctrine to be embodied in the original understanding of the classic liberal system, rendering release time, a gift. Recent legislation has sought to prohibit release time but the bill languished in committee.
Neuman filed suit in Livingston County Circuit Court against the Brighton Board of Education and the Brighton Education Association. He is seeking an injunction and declaratory judgment, a $500 fine against each defendant pursuant to state law, and reimbursement of his legal fees.
The case was dismissed after the school district and union agreed to remove illegal contact language forcing nonmembers to pay for union release time.