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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
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State vs. Union War Flares Up in Michigan

DETROIT (CN) - In a state vs. union struggle that mirrors events in nearby Wisconsin, 13 teachers unions asked a federal judge to strike down a new Michigan law that prohibits school districts - and only school districts - from collecting union dues through payroll deduction.

The Michigan Education Association and a dozen other unions claim enactment of 2012 Public Act 53 denies their members "the most effective and efficient means for employees to provide financial support to their labor representatives."

"The true legislative agenda behind Public Act 53 was to suppress and silence the political voices of public school unions and their members in retaliation for their grassroots political activity," the complaint states. "This invidious retaliatory purpose - the only arguable motive for Public Act 53 - is forbidden by the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause."

The Michigan law is one of several copycat anti-union laws that legislatures around the country enacted after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker pushed through his so-called Budget Repair Bill last year. Walker's law prohibited public employees' unions from negotiating for anything but salary, and made it harder for public workers to be represented by, or retain membership in, unions.

A federal judge on March 30 struck down key provisions in the Wisconsin law, including the prohibition of payroll deduction of union dues, and mandatory annual recertification of public workers' unions.

In the Michigan teachers' case, filed Wednesday, the unions say: "Recently plaintiff school employee unions have actively mobilized their members and the public in opposition to anti-employee legislation proposed and enacted in the current Michigan legislative session. Enacted in the immediate wake of such activity, Public Act 53 selectively targets public school employee unions and their members by outlawing dues deduction for them only. Public Act 53 violates Equal Protection because there is no arguable rational basis for its discriminatory application to public school employee unions and their members and not to other similarly situated public employee unions and their members. Public Act 53 also violates the First Amendment's prohibition on viewpoint discrimination based on its selective application to politically disfavored unions."

The teachers unions add: "Legislators promoting the anti-school employee legislation viewed the political activity of MEA and other school employee unions as a direct threat. In July 2011, the Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives was quoted in the Muskegon Chronicle newspaper and on the 'Mlive.com' web site as stating that the MEA had 'declared war' by supporting the recall of lawmakers who backed the anti-employee legislation. On September 9, 2011, the Michigan Senate Majority Leader stated in a public television interview that, 'The teachers union specifically the Michigan Education Association have lost their way and public school employees should no longer be forced to join them.' This statement was widely reported at the time."

House Bill 4929, which was enacted at Public Act 53, was introduced on Sept. 8, 2011, and passed one week later by the Republican-controlled Legislature, "with little debate or discussion," the teachers say in the complaint.

Payroll deduction of union dues "has been a widespread practice in Michigan for many decades," and "there is no arguable rational basis for its discriminatory application to public school employee unions and their members and not to other similarly situated public employee unions and their members," the unions say.

The unions sued Michigan Employment Relations Commission Chairman Edward Callaghan and its members Christine Derdarian and Nino Green. The commission is in charge of enforcing the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act, which will be amended if Public Act 53 remains in effect.

According to the complaint, the Michigan Public Employees Relations Act states: "It is the purpose of 1973 PA 25 [of the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act] to reaffirm the continuing public policy of this state that the stability and effectiveness of labor relations in the public sector require, if the requirement is negotiated with the public employer, that all employees in the bargaining unit shall share fairly in the financial support of their exclusive bargaining representative by paying to the exclusive bargaining representative a service fee that may be equivalent to the amount of dues uniformly required of members of the exclusive bargaining representative."

The unions say that without an injunction "public school employee unions will suffer drastic reductions in their dues revenue and they will incur significant non-recoverable expenses, which will limit their ability to advocate and further the interests of the employees they represent."

They want the law enjoined as unconstitutional, and costs.

The unions are represented by a welter of attorneys, including Mark Cousens (for the American Federation of Teachers plaintiffs), and Arthur Przybylowicz (for the Michigan Education Association).

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