Michigan labor board makes a good call in ruling against a 10-year union contract designed to skirt the law

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A group of Taylor teachers prevailed in their challenge of a 10-year security agreement that prevented them from exercising their right-to-work freedoms. The Michigan Employment Relations Commission made the call and got it right.

The Taylor teachers union was not the only labor group that tried to skirt right to work before the law went into effect in March 2013. But it did stand out for crafting one of the longer contracts.

At least 145 school districts, including some of Michigan’s largest, passed contracts that extended years into the future, delaying the full impact of the law aimed at giving workers a choice on union membership.

The labor commission ruled last week that the Taylor Federation of Teachers and the Taylor School District had committed an unfair labor practice when they signed off on the decade-long security agreement. Under the pact, teachers could not opt out of the union until it expired.

In the Taylor case, the labor commission stated, “Imposing a lengthy financial burden on bargaining unit members, to avoid the application of a state law for 10 years, is arbitrary, indifferent and reckless.”

While this ruling only applies to the Taylor teachers, it should be seen as good news for teachers in other districts locked into long contracts.

The three teachers from Taylor —Nancy Rhatigan, Rebecca Metz and Angela Steffke —sued the school district and union.

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation represented the teachers, who claimed it was unreasonable for the security clause to extend more than five years beyond the collective bargaining agreement.

The security clause forced teachers to keep paying the union dues until 2023, and allowed the district to fire teachers for not paying.

The commission’s ruling is the latest setback for teacher unions trying to thwart the right-to-work law.

Earlier this month, the Michigan Court of Claims dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Michigan Education Association, along with other union plaintiffs who argued the Legislature violated the state’s Open Meetings Act when it passed right to work in December 2012.

The court said the temporary closure of the Capitol building, which the unions fought, was handled correctly.

And a decision last fall from an administrative law judge with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission tossed out a rule the MEA had imposed that only allowed teachers to leave the union during the month of August.

The decision only applies to teachers working under contracts approved after March 2013.

Union officials had used the August provision to bully teachers into paying dues longer than they wished.

Unions will have to look beyond blocking right to work to hold on to their members.

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