Taylor teachers challenge contract

Sunday Times Newspapers

TAYLOR — A local challenge to a state law will take to court Michigan’s “right to work” legislation.

On behalf of three Taylor School District educators the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation on Feb. 28 filed a lawsuit seeking to nullify the requirement that teachers pay union dues for a mandatory 10-year period.

That contractual obligation, Foundation lawyers said, was outside of the four-year contract reached last month by Taylor Federation of Teachers Local 1085 and Taylor School District.

The contract was the result of numerous concessions as the district scrambled to meet a state-mandated three-year plan to eliminate an estimated $19 million budget deficit. The union accepted up to 15 layoffs along with a 10 percent pay decrease for the remainder of the 2012-2013 academic year and a two-year salary cap.

Three Taylor teachers — Angela Steffke, Rebecca Metz and Nancy Rhatigan — are named as plaintiffs in claims against the Taylor School District, Board of Education and Federation of Teachers. The lawsuit contends that a mandated 10-year dues requirement exceeds the length of the contract.

In a statement released by the Mackinac Center, senior attorney Derk Wilcox said that requiring dues beyond the contract period violates state employment laws and contradicts right-to-work legislation, and is asking the court to nullify the clause. Absent that, the teachers ask that the clause be incorporated into a traditional collective bargaining agreement set to expire in 2017.

“This is a desperate attempt by the union to circumvent Michigan’s right-to-work law and preserve its own power at the expense of teachers,” Wilcox said.

Michigan’s right-to-work law that goes into affect on March 27 makes it illegal to require union dues as a condition of employment.

American Federation of Teachers — Michigan President David Hecker was unavailable for comment prior to press time.

Taylor Schools Supt. Diane Allen declined to comment on the merits of the lawsuit, and that it had been hoped that last month’s agreement was a step toward amicably erasing a financial crisis.

“The Taylor School District and Taylor Federation of Teachers worked together to come to an agreement that would address our looming deficit,” Allen said, “while having the least affect on our students and the programs that we offer.”

Steffke, in a statement released by the Mackinac Center, said that the principle at stake was that “civil rights” were violated when the union and school district agreed to the contract.

“This is about fighting for our freedom of association,” Steffke said, “and fighting against coercion in the workplace.”