Brighton Teachers Union, School Board Acquiesce to Center Lawsuit, Strike Illegal Language from Contract

‘Legislature still needs to look at impropriety of release time’

‘Similar illegal contract language found in Okemos’

For Immediate Release
Oct. 24, 2014
Ted O'Neil
Media Relations Manager

MIDLAND — The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation today announced that the Brighton Education Association and the Brighton Area Schools Board of Education have removed illegal language from a contract in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of a Brighton High School teacher who said the union and district were violating his freedoms under Michigan’s right-to-work law.

“We are pleased that the district and union acted so quickly to fix the illegality in the contract and honor our client’s wishes to be free from the union and its internal machinations,” said Patrick J. Wright, vice president for legal affairs at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “Release time involves internal union business and therefore the financial burden should fall only on those who choose to remain a part of the union.”

Adam Neuman, a social studies teacher, resigned from the BEA and its parent group, the Michigan Education Association, in August 2014 during the MEA’s so-called “August window.” State law says that union members who opt out do not have to financially support the union as a condition of employment. This includes, according to the statute, “any dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses of any kind or amount.”

In June 2014 the BEA and the board of education agreed to a contract for teachers that said all members of the bargaining unit will be charged, via payroll deduction, for a share of the cost for the union to reimburse the district for “release time.” State law forces those who opt out of union membership to remain part of their bargaining unit.

Release time allows union officials a certain amount of time each week to conduct union business during school hours at the district’s expense. Brighton’s June contract called for the BEA to reimburse the district for any release time used by the union over a set amount. The new contract language states that only members of the BEA will pay for that cost.

“Whether this was an oversight or something the union tried to slip past the district, it has been quickly fixed,” Wright said. “At this time we will be asking the Livingston County Circuit Court to dismiss our lawsuit against the union and the district.”

Wright also said the new contract language no longer violates Public Act 53 of 2012, which prohibits public schools from “collecting dues or services fees” via payroll deduction on behalf of a union.

“It’s up to the union now to collect that money from its members,” Wright said. “The impropriety of release time, though, is something the Legislature should consider. There’s no reason why teachers should be pulled from the classroom to work on union business during the school day when they should be focusing on teaching students.”

Neuman, a husband and father of two, is a graduate of Brighton High School and Alma College. He joined the Army Reserves in 2008 after hearing about several former students who were being recalled to active duty under the military’s “stop-loss” policy. He served in Afghanistan in 2011 during the Kandahar surge.

“I’m glad this is resolved,” he said. “I don’t have anything against the district or the union. I just didn’t want to be forced to pay for an organization I’m not part of.”

The MCLF has discovered that other school districts, namely Okemos Public Schools, have similar illegal language in their teachers contract (Section 4.5-B page 33).

“Okemos probably should take steps to correct this problem in order to avoid any difficulties in the future,” Wright said. “There are more than 500 school districts in the state and we are going through all of their contracts to make sure they are complying with the law.”

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