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Panel: Taylor teachers not required to pay union dues

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission ruled Friday that teachers in the Taylor Public School District are not bound by their contract to pay union dues for the next 10 years, saying the provision violates the state's right-to-work law.

Michigan's law, which took effect in 2013, makes it illegal to require employees to join a union or pay fees comparable to union dues as a condition of employment. A number of teachers unions negotiated new contracts shortly before the law took effect to avoid falling under the measure, which makes financially supporting a union voluntary.

The Taylor Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers Michigan blasted the ruling and vowed to appeal.

"In a decision reflecting the politicized nature of the agency, two (of three) members of the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, appointed by Governor Rick Snyder, sided with three members against the Taylor Federation of Teachers, which represents more than 500 Taylor teachers, and the Taylor Board of Education," the unions said in a statement.

But Derk A. Wilcox, senior attorney at the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, which favors the right-to-work law, applauded the decision.

Taylor teachers Nancy Rhatigan, Rebecca Metz and Angela Steffke, with the help of the foundation, filed suit against the school district and the union in February 2013.

"For Taylor teachers, the ruling is clear that the extraordinary 10-year union security agreement should not bind the teachers," Wilcox said. "They should be free to withdraw their financial support from the union. The commission held that Taylor Federation of Teachers' and the Taylor School District's action was intended to delay the application of PA 349 for 10 years beyond its legislatively mandated effective date."

Wilcox said that other districts with similar contracts "should be very concerned about this decision, as it could easily be applied to them."

Linda Moore, president of the Taylor Federation of Teachers, said the ruling does not void the entire contract.

"The agreement has two expiration dates, October 2017 and October 2023," she said. "The October 2023 expiration date is for the union security clause and is the only part of the agreement to be voided. It is expected that the TFT will appeal the ruling within the timelines allowed. The portion of the agreement that expires October 2017 will remain in effect until its expiration."

Moore added, "It should be noted that TFT members (the only folks involved and who hold a stake in this agreement) overwhelmingly ratified this agreement."