MEA President rebuts criticism about perfectly legal contract extensions

EAST LANSING, Mich., Feb. 26, 2013 — The following statement can be attributed to MEA President Steven Cook. It is in response to political criticism levied against teachers and education support professionals for negotiating long-term contract extensions in advance of the March 27 implementation of Michigan’s so-called “right-to-work” law:

“One month from tomorrow, a new Michigan law will take effect making it illegal to negotiate contracts that include fair-share terms requiring employees covered by that contract to either be a union member or pay their fair share of the cost of negotiating and maintaining that contract. Any contract in place by that date is legal and binding under state law.

“The March 27 implementation date of this so-called ‘right-to-work’ law 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. When it takes effect on March 27, the right-to-work law will not impact those contracts and agreements until they expire, as they will be protected by the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which bars Congress and state legislatures from enacting laws that retroactively impair contract rights.

“This fact was recognized by one of the sponsors of the right-to-work bills, Republican Senate Floor Leader Arlan Meekhof, who told the Reuters news agency that those ‘who agreed to a contract should be allowed to retain the rights they had when they made the agreement.’

“Despite these perfectly legal contract negotiations, some Lansing politicians are wildly accusing unions of trying to ‘skirt the law.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, we are following the letter of the law, and we will continue to do so after Michigan’s right-to-work law takes effect on March 27.

“The fact is, there is no right-to-work law in Michigan until March 27. For politicians to attempt to enforce a law not yet in effect is no different than them deciding to lower the speed limit to 60 miles per hour starting this summer, but ordering police to start issuing speeding tickets to motorists driving 70 miles per hour starting tomorrow.”

Contact: Doug Pratt, MEA Director of Public Affairs, 517-896-4465, dpratt@mea.org