Survey Finds Issues With One-Quarter of Teacher Contracts Regarding Michigan’s Right-to-Work Law

‘Thousands of teachers could be misled’

For Immediate Release
Sept. 3, 2014
Ted O'Neil
Media Relations Manager

MIDLAND — One-quarter of the collective bargaining agreements for teachers recently ratified by school districts raise policy and legal questions under Michigan’s right-to-work law, according to a new Mackinac Center for Public Policy study released today.

In the first year after Public Act 349 of 2012 passed, 234 districts signed new contracts with their teachers unions. A third of those were signed between Dec. 11, 2012, when right-to-work passed and March 28, 2013, when it took effect. Among contracts that took effect after March 28, 2013, more than three quarters removed language that forced teachers to financially support a union as a condition of employment.

Fifty-seven school district contracts, however, raise legal and policy questions about the implementation of Public Act 349. Of these contracts, some 23 kept mandatory dues language in place, even though the law forbidding such a practice had already taken effect. Monroe Public Schools, for example, ratified its new contract on March 4, 2014, nearly a year after right-to-work took effect, yet its contract still says teachers will be fired if they do not financially support the teachers union. The same is true for districts of varying sizes across the state, including Algonac, Ludington, Mt. Pleasant and Vicksburg. Combined, these 23 districts employ some 2,160 teachers.

Other compliance issues identified in the study include districts that created a separate agreement aside from the collective bargaining agreement to require mandatory dues; districts that delayed all or parts of their contract’s effective date beyond March 28, 2013; and districts that have modified their collective bargaining agreements since March 28, 2013, without removing mandatory dues language.

“There are thousands of teachers in these districts who may be misled into believing they don’t have a choice when it comes to financially supporting a union in order to keep their job,” said Audrey Spalding, director of education policy and author of the study.

Spalding found that eight districts have agency fee agreements that are separate from their collective bargaining agreements, requiring teachers to financially support a union for a period of time longer than their contract is valid. The Taylor School District is one such example, and the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation has filed suit on behalf of three teachers there to have the separate agreement overturned.

Several districts also signed contracts that contain illegal language before right-to-work took effect but were delayed until after that date. Michigan Capitol Confidential, the online news service of the Mackinac Center, has reported how such a move cost some teachers in Wyoming Public Schools as much as $12,700 in annual earnings and benefits.

“This is important because in the next two years, about 120 teacher contracts that took effect before March 28, 2013, will need to be renegotiated, impacting nearly 25,000 teachers,” Spalding said. “If teachers can’t rely on school and union officials to remove illegal contract language, that means they don’t have all the information necessary to exercise their rights if they do want to resign from their union.”

The Mackinac Center has contacted several districts identified in this survey for having contract language contrary to Michigan’s right-to-work law. Several have indicated that they will be removing the illegal language or asking their local union to notify teachers that they are, in fact, eligible to exercise their rights under Public Act 349.

This study is part of a continued effort by the Mackinac Center to investigate how school districts and teachers unions implement state law in collective bargaining agreements. In March of 2014, Spalding found that as many as 60 percent of districts in Michigan kept language prohibited by a 2011 state law regarding teacher evaluation, placement and recall. Similarly, a 2012 review of 104 contracts found that nearly 80 percent were disregarding a 2010 state law requiring a performance-based pay system for teachers.

Spalding suggests several options legislators could take to ensure that school districts and unions are following both the spirit and letter of the law when negotiating contracts.

“The right-to-work law currently provides for a $500 fine for employers and unions that violate the mandatory dues stipulation,” she said. “This may not be a large enough penalty to spur school and union officials to demonstrate compliance.”

Spalding also said the state could reward districts that are in compliance with “best practices,” money. The state aid budget for 2014-2015 does the same for districts in compliance with Michigan’s merit pay requirement and Public Act 103 of 2011.

Finally, the state could also expedite the emergency manager process for districts that are both in an overspending crisis and not in compliance with the right-to-work law.

“District officials who are bypassing state law while continuing to overspend are not responsibly managing the public resources given to their schools,” Spalding said.

The full study can be found at Spalding also discusses the findings in this short video.