Michigan GOP threatens unions/schools over contract extensions, Mackinac Center files frivolous lawsuit

Exploiting legal loopholes is only allowed if you are Republican or conservative

With the date when Michigan officially becomes a Right to Work (for Less) state looming (March 28th), Michigan Republicans and the anti-union, anti-teacher conservative lobby group The Mackinac Center for Public Policy are in freak-out mode that unions would try to preserve some of their rights before they are stripped from them.

First, Ferris State University backed down from signing a new contract with their union after being not-so-subtly threatened with loss of state funding by GOP lawmakers:

Call it intimidation by inference.

Some mighty important GOP lawmakers who control the purse strings for universities are seething that some of those schools are trying to end run the state’s new Right to Work law by adopting new contracts before the law hits the books at the end of March.
Their saber rattling has included “warnings” that universities that do this could face financial consequences (Read: They could lose state dollars.)

Well the rattling was apparently loud enough to travel up U.S. 131 all the way to Big Rapids, where the Ferris State University board and its faculty were “this close” to inking a five-year contract just in time to avoid the RTW provisions. Unions could lose dues contributions under that law.

Wayne State University reached a new agreement with their union members that extended for eight years the protections that would be eliminated after the new law takes effect. Despite the fact that university administration officials and unionized professors are all calling the agreement fair and good, this has Republicans threatening them, as well:

Ari Adler, spokesman for Republican Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, said Tuesday the union contract “appears to be an attempt to circumvent the law” by reaching an eight-year deal before right to work goes into effect. Adler said that “we’re going to take a close look” at the union contract to examine whether it was “worthwhile for taxpayers.”

Republican Sen. Howard Walker from Traverse City, chair of the Senate Appropriations K-12, School Aid and Education Subcommittee, issued this threat:

“If school districts are trying to get around the intent of Michigan law, then that is something to look at.”

Democratic Rep. Sam Singh from East Lansing had this to say:

“Lansing Republicans have no right to interfere in this process as a third party,” he said. “News reports indicate that the new contract includes a review process for tenured professors who may be having problems and additional long term savings in health care costs. These new provisions in the contract certainly look like they are good for professors, students and the tax payers.”

Finally, Taylor Schools are now in the crosshairs of both Republicans in the legislature as well as the Mackinac Center. House Republicans went so far as to hold a hearing on the matter which Taylor Schools and union representatives declined to attend. Education Committee Chair Tom McMillin suggested they were “hiding”. The reality is that they were avoiding a political stunt that was nothing more than what Progress Michigan’s Executive Director Zack Pohl rightfully characterized as “witch hunt” designed to “bully” school officials. Democratic Representative Doug Geiss was equally blunt:

Democratic Rep. Doug Geiss, who graduated from Taylor Public Schools and now represents the city in Lansing, was not scared to come by. Standing outside the committee, he called the hearing an act of “political grandstanding” designed to “cast aspersions” on the district that his kids now attend.

“Right-to-work is not the law of the land,” Geiss said, pointing out that the public act does not actually take effect until March 27. “If Republicans wanted it to be in place on this date or a month ago, they should have put immediate effect. They did not do that, and therefore they have no ability to complain about what is occurring right now with contract negotiations. The Taylor School Board, superintendent and the unions are following the law of the land as it stands.”

Geiss also pointed out that this agreement was about more than just extending the contract:

“The school came up with a deficit elimination plan to make up for the $600 per pupil cut made by the state last year,” Geiss said. “Taylor has been told by the state that if there was no ratification of a contract by February, there would be no state funding.”

The union agreed to a 10% wage cut over the first three years of the contract in exchange for the lengthy contract.

In other words, it was a negotiation, something that appears to be an anathema to Michigan Republicans.

It’s worth noting that McMillin has planned a similar clown show hearing for Wayne State University, as well.

The Mackinac Center decided to file a lawsuit against the school, apparently for violating a law that is not yet in force, a rather outrageous abuse of our legal system, particularly from a group that so often decries the wasting of taxpayer money.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy filed a lawsuit Thursday on behalf of three Taylor teachers who object to a union security clause adopted by the school board and the Taylor Federation of Teachers.

“The Taylor agreement is a radical new attempt at a union security agreement. They have a collective bargaining agreement they just reached which expires in 2017, but they’ve also done a separate side agreement,” said Derk Wilcox, senior attorney for the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation. “The10-year length is to exempt the union from right-to-work laws for a decade.”

AFT Michigan president David Hecker released this statement:

It’s absurd that the DeVos-backed Mackinac Center is trying to enforce a law before it has even taken effect. This frivolous lawsuit is just the latest example of corporate special interests trying to take away collective bargaining rights from hard-working teachers. This contract was ratified overwhelmingly by teachers and school board members, who are deciding what’s best on a local level for fulfilling the mission of the district, which is educating children. Partisan politics don’t belong in the classroom. It’s time for special interest groups like the Mackinac Center to stop trying to intimidate local school officials and employees.

If it weren’t so insulting and offensive, it would be amusing to watch hypocrites from the Republican Party and anti-teacher groups acting so outraged at what they portray as skirting the law to get what they want. Republicans passed the Right to Work legislation while doors to the Capitol were illegally locked to keep out protesters and with absolutely zero hearings or ability for public input. If they had wished the law to become effective immediately, they had that option. Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook put it this way:

The ” implementation date of this so-called ‘right-to-work’ law (on March 28) was selected by the Legislature, based on its decision to not give the bill immediate effect – something they granted 848 other bills in the last two years. In the meantime, school employees are negotiating long-term contract extensions and agreements that include fair-share terms.

The hypocrisy on this is breathtaking. Republicans exploit every loophole they can find to pass their overreaching anti-labor, anti-teacher agenda but are now freaking out when the victims of their overreach do the same in order to keep some minor protections in place.

Another day, another parcel of shameless hypocrisy from Michigan Republicans and their conservative partners.

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