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MERC Rules Taylor Schools’ Union Security Agreement ‘Excessive and Unreasonable’

Kacie Kefgen

By Kacie Kefgen, MASB Assistant Director of Labor Relations and Legal Services

DashBoard, Feb. 25, 2015

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission has invalidated a Union Security Agreement that the Taylor School District and the district’s teachers union crafted in the months before the state’s Right to Work statute took effect in 2013.

The Union Security Agreement required teachers in the district to pay either union dues or service fees until July 2023, a provision that was in direct conflict with Right to Work, which says workers cannot be forced to pay dues or fees to a union to keep their jobs. In another agreement, which was negotiated at the same time, the union consented to a 10 percent pay cut, the suspension of step increases, reductions to stipends for coaches and the elimination of reimbursement for mileage expenses for school business. That agreement expires in October 2017.

Who had a problem with that?

Three Taylor teachers, with the help of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, challenged the Union Security Agreement. They argued that it violated certain sections of the Public Employee Relations Act and was motivated by a desire to avoid the impacts of Michigan’s Right to Work statute.

But weren’t these agreements in place before Right to Work took effect?

Yes, Michigan’s Right to Work statute did not take effect until after Taylor’s agreements were ratified. And Right to Work permits parties to enforce union security clauses that were included in agreements before the law took effect. Nevertheless, in this 2-1 decision, the Commission ruled that the district and the union “effectively compelled unwilling unit members, in violation of § 9 of PERA, to financially support the Union for the next decade.”

But what about union security agreements that are shorter than a decade?

MERC suggests that there is no hard and fast length of time that is permissible for union security provisions. Commissioners rejected the argument that all agreements or clauses within a single agreement must have the same duration to be valid, as the three teachers reasoned. Instead, the question is “. . . whether the Employer has violated § 10(1(a) and (c) of PERA by interfering with, restraining or coercing public employees in the exercise of rights guaranteed by § 9 ‘in order to encourage membership in a labor organization.’”

The commissioners also held that, in this case, the Taylor School District both coerced teachers to financially support the union and unlawfully discriminated in order to encourage membership in a labor organization. Those factors make the Union Security Agreement “excessive and unreasonable.”

MERC also held that the union violated its duty to fair representation because “[the Union] was aware that [Right to Work] was pending when it negotiated for and ratified a Union Security Agreement that it knew would compel unwilling members to support it financially for 10 years.”  

This decision is expected to be challenged in the Michigan Court of Appeals.

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