Source: Sherman Publications

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Request made in school union case

by Phil Custodio

June 11, 2014

A Right-to-Work case, which includes a Clarkston paraeducator, continues against Michigan teacher unions. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy filed a request with the state, June 5, asking the Michigan Employment Relations Commission to make a new rule.

The new rule, requiring public-sector unions to notify employees of their ability to opt out three weeks before the start of any resignation window, would prevent what happened to Breza and other union members from happening again.

"With all of the confusion going on as to when public-sector union members can or cannot opt out of their union, we thought this streamlined process would be a big help to unions that are trying to keep their members informed and for employees who are trying to sort out their rights," said Patrick J. Wright, vice president for legal affairs.

Last year, Breza missed a deadline to resign from her collective bargaining unit. Michigan's Right-to-Work law allows members to opt out of their unions, but several districts including Clarkston require opt-out notices to be filed in the month of August.

Brooke Davis, president of Clarkston Education Association, said the August window allows unions to conduct normal business.

"Employees of this district always work with administration to come to agreements that are best for the district, students and employees. That is exactly what happened when we voted on a contract extension that Amy and every other employee had the opportunity to voice their opinion on and make it heard at the ballot box," Davis said. "I would hope that the Mackinac Center would respect that vote and not try to buy a different decision. The Mackinac Center has not ever shied away from letting people know how anti-public education they are."

The requested rule would also require unions to acknowledge members' right to resign, describe the process to be followed, and provide more info on time restrictions.

"We've seen how much trouble, for example the Michigan Education Association has had in trying to keep track of dues-paying members," Wright said. "But other public-sector unions are probably also experiencing problems with communicating this information effectively to their members, especially those that have a sort of rolling window based on an employee's hire date. This is a positive step toward fixing those issues and making sure public-sector union members are fully informed of their rights."

Davis said he supports all employee's right to question union or district policies and contracts, as well as decisions made by the courts.

"Amy's or any other employee's First Amendment rights were never restricted that I am aware of and in fact, it is usually labor unions that fight for the rights of students and employees above all else," he said.

Clarkston School Board approved a contract extension in March 2013, just before the state Right-to-Work law took effect.

Breza was part of a group of eight educators represented by the Mackinac Center charging unions with unfair labor practices.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Miriam Chanski of Coopersville schools, was allowed to leave the MEA after a review of her case this past March. The case continues for the other educators, Wright said.