Federal suit filed against unconstitutional ban on payroll deduction of dues

Unions band together to fight bias, retribution of Public Act 53

DETROIT, April 4, 2012 – Four unions representing Michigan school employees filed suit today in Michigan’s Eastern District federal court challenging the constitutionality of Public Act 53 of 2012, the recently enacted ban on payroll deduction of dues for public school employees only.

The suit asserts that the law violates the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, discriminating against school employees as retribution for political speech and treating school employees differently than other classifications of workers without reason. Last week in Wisconsin, another federal court found that similar restrictions on public workers passed during last year’s highly publicized assault on worker rights were unconstitutional.

Locals unions and members from MEA, AFT Michigan, AFSCME Council 25 and SEIU Local 517M are plaintiffs in the suit, which seeks injunctive and declaratory relief. The three Commissioners on the Michigan Employment Relations Commission are named as defendants, since they are the public officials responsible for enforcing PA 53.

“The day this bill passed the Legislature, we wrote to Gov. Snyder outlining the constitutional problems with this unfair law,” said AFT Michigan President David Hecker. “By signing this bill, he clearly ignored the fact that there is no rational reason for this to be law. The House Fiscal Agency says this won’t save money – in fact, it may cost some districts money to enact the change. It’s just another attack on collective bargaining rights for one group of Michigan workers. We were gratified that groups such as the Michigan Association of School Boards, the Michigan Association of School Administrators, and the Michigan Parent Teacher Association opposed this bill because they know payroll deduction works for everyone.”

PA 53 makes it illegal for school districts to bargain language allowing for employees’ dues to be paid to their union through payroll deduction – a practice that has been decided at local bargaining tables for decades in Michigan. Where a contract is in place, it allows for the continuation of the practice until the end of the contract. The bill only applies to K-12 public school employees. On Monday, an Ingham County Circuit judge issued a preliminary injunction on the implementation of this law due to a dispute over the House’s granting of “immediate effect” without a roll call vote.

“This is another in a long line of new laws passed by this Legislature and this Governor that undermine the rights of working people and citizens in this state,” said Al Garrett, President of Michigan AFSCME Council 25. “From the Emergency Manager law to budget cuts for schools and local communities to this latest hypocritical attack on hard working school employees, extreme politicians in Lansing continue to ignore the voices of their constituents. They’re using their elected offices to exact political revenge – it’s just plain wrong.”

When the Governor signed the bill, he said, “This legislation furthers the goal of good government by promoting greater transparency and ensuring that public resources are used solely for their intended purposes.” That explanation is hypocritical at best, however.

Following that logic, if this was about proper use of “public” funds, why is only one category of public workers – school employees – singled out? Why does this only apply to union dues and not other payroll deductions like United Way contributions, health insurance or pension contributions, or even taxes? All those things should be billed separately to workers under that logic. Why should taxpayer dollars be used by public entities to fund other private operations, like associations for cities, townships, school boards and more?

“The logic is flawed here because it’s a hollow attempt to cover up the true intent of this law,” said MEA President Steven Cook. “This bill sat for months in the Senate. It’s no coincidence that it passed within 24 hours of the launch of a worker coalition to amend our state constitution to protect collective bargaining rights. That just doesn’t pass the smell test. It is blatant retaliation against one group of workers who insist on standing up, making their voices heard and fighting back against the attacks on collective bargaining, public education and the middle class.”

Last Friday, a federal judge in Wisconsin ruled that the state could not enforce a ban on dues deduction that was part of Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial “budget repair bill.” The constitutional grounds for that decision are similar to those brought forward in this suit.

“Last year’s attacks on public workers in Wisconsin were the worst kind of partisan political power grabs and we’re thrilled for the workers in that state who’ve been vindicated through our federal justice system,” said Phil Thompson, Executive Vice President of SEIU Local 517M. “We’re proud to be taking Michigan’s version of those attacks to federal court in our state, where we are confident that truth and justice will win over politics and retribution.”

 

Contact:

Doug Pratt, MEA Director of Public Affairs, 517-896-4465

David Hecker, AFT Michigan President, 313-204-6115

Herb Sanders, AFSCME Council 25, 313-964-1711

Phil Thompson, SEIU Local 517M Executive Vice President, 517-482-1737