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School union fees extended

April 03, 2013 - Three days before Michigan's "Right to Work" law took effect on March 28, Clarkston Board of Education took action.

The school board voted 5-2 to approve agency-fee agreements with Clarkston Education Association, Clarkston Office Personnel Association, Clarkston Transportation Association, Clarkston Custodial Association, and Clarkston Paraeducators Association.

The employee groups brought the items to the school board, said board Treasurer Steve Hyer.

"As a board, I'm happy to support an item that doesn't cost us anything as a board, that supports our employees," Hyer said.

The agreements, effective March 26, ensure employees "pay their fair share" for benefits of union representation through June 30, 2016.

Service fees are needed because unions are lawfully required to provide training, legal advice and services, and contractual responsibilities to all employees, said Brooke Davis, president of Clarkston Education Association. 

An overwhelming majority of employees support it, Hyer said.

"This is something we can do for our employees to show our good will and appreciation during this very difficult financial time," he said. "This is something that we can do to really extend the olive branch and say, 'hey, regardless of our personal viewpoints, regardless of what the political will of the state might be, this is something that's legal that we can do that we can work together on.'"

Trustees Sue Boatman and Joan Patterson voted against the agreements.

"I took the stance I did to support the intent of the law, in belief that not doing so will lead to severe financial repercussions," Patterson said. "Adopting a non-standard contract is inconsistent with that direction and a blatant attempt to undermine the new law, skirting the intent, direction, and the people of the state."

By following only the "letter of the law" in a way that was not intended subjects the district to consequences from the state government, she said.

Boatman said the House Appropriations subcommittee on K-12 schools' 2013-14 School Aid budget includes possible consequences.

"It contains language that disqualifies school districts that extend closed shop agreements before March 28, 2013, from receiving tech infrastructure grants and district performance grants, unless the new agreements provide at least a 10 percent savings in wages and benefits," she said. "This year, Clarkston Community Schools received over $400,000 from these grants."

The closed shop agreements approved by the board includes no savings, she said.

"The board does not know if the house subcommittee recommendations will be adopted nor do we know how much grant money will be allocated to Clarkston Schools," she said. "In good conscience, I could not support the desire of the unions to retain a closed shop for three more years when it could result in the loss of potentially $400,000 of income for the district. This comes at a time when the school district is facing budget cuts for next year."

The "Right to Work" law, Public Act 349, was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder last December. It prohibits unions from requiring public employees to become a member or financially support it.

Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.
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