Detroit— An unusual 10-year agreement that protects union dues in a Detroit-area school district should stand, a state labor judge said.
The deal was made early last year, just weeks before Michigan’s so-called right-to-work law took effect in March. The law prohibits forcing public and private workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment.
The Taylor school district and Taylor Federation of Teachers agreed to a 10-year side contract that forces teachers to pay dues or a service fee. The deal was challenged by three teachers, who pay roughly $900 a year, on many grounds. They want it thrown out or shortened to three years.
An administrative law judge, Julia Stern, recommended the Michigan Employment Relations Commission dismiss the complaint. She said there’s nothing illegal about Taylor and the union reaching a deal before the new law began in late March.
Stern, quoting the contract, said the agreement was made to maintain “peace” between the union and the district. Separately, teachers agreed to a 10-percent pay cut and other concessions.
“It is not the Commission’s role to modify the terms of a lawful contract on public policy grounds,” Stern said in her Dec. 27 decision.
The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, which is representing the three teachers, opposes the recommendation.
“If 10 years is acceptable, why not 50? Why not 99?” attorney Derk Wilcox said. “The logic of this ruling means that local governments, by enacting specific agreements for long periods of time, could sidestep state laws they disagree with.”
David Hecker, statewide union president of AFT Michigan, said Stern made the right call.
The contract was “ratified by a democratically elected school board and by members of the union. … There’s no issue here,” Hecker said Tuesday.
More than 140 school districts agreed to contract extensions before the right-to-work law kicked in, according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland. Any school employee who wants to stop supporting a union must wait until the contract expires.