Teachers in Taylor Win Final Right-to-Work Battle

Supreme Court rejects appeal and upholds teachers’ rights

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Derk Wilcox
Senior Attorney
(989) 698-1920

MIDLAND — The Michigan Supreme Court rejected the appeal of the Taylor Federation of Teachers and Taylor School District, who attempted to deny at least three teachers of their right to opt out of paying union dues per Michigan’s right-to-work law. The decision will have ramifications for similar union-led attempts across the state to trap teachers in long-term “security agreements.” It may also be instructive considering the potential consequences of an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME in 2018.

Michigan passed a right-to-work law in 2012, but it was several months before the law went into effect. Many school districts and union rushed to ratify new contracts during that period. In the Taylor School District, the union and school board entered into a “security agreement” that prevented any teachers from exercising their right to opt out of financially supporting the union until 2023. Essentially, the district and union attempted to deny these employees their statutory rights for 10 years.

Angela Steffke, Rebecca Metz and Nancy Rhatigan, three teachers from Taylor, saw this as a blatant end-run around the law and sued the district and the Taylor Federation of Teachers with the help of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation. After winning their way through the Michigan Employment Relations Commission and the Michigan Court of Appeals, the state Supreme Court just decided not to hear an appeal on the matter, affirming the decision of the lower courts.

“The decision in the Taylor case has been four years in the making,” said Mackinac Center Senior Attorney Derk Wilcox. “It not only affirms the rights of these teachers to opt out of paying the union, but also the right of public employees to challenge the contracts made for them by unions.”

The impact of this case is potentially far-reaching. The Court of Appeals decision in favor of the Taylor teachers has already helped educators in Clarkston and Ann Arbor exercise their right to leave the union and not be fired. Several other districts around the state have agreed to similar deals with unions, and the Taylor ruling clarifies that a valid legal remedy for teachers who have been denied their rights is to file lawsuits against these districts and unions.

“The courts have rightfully called these union security agreements an attempt to undermine the intent of the Legislature in enacting right-to-work,” Wilcox said. “We’re pleased that these teachers will not have to wait 10 years to take advantage of these freedoms.”

This case may also have national implications. The U.S. Supreme Court is going to rule in 2018 on a case out of Illinois called Janus v. AFSCME. If the Court decides that forced support for unions violates employees’ First Amendment rights, as is expected, millions of workers across the country will be trying to opt out of their unions like these teachers from Taylor did. Unions will likely use similar tactics to the ones on display in this case to try to continue forcing workers to support them.

“The Janus case will have national implications and unions will no doubt attempt to use underhanded tactics like they did in Taylor to prevent employees from exercising their rights,” Wilcox said. “The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation will be ready when they do.”

For more information about the case, please visit: http://www.mackinac.org/18331

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