After seven years of delays, more than $550 million remains withheld from school employees
LANSING – The Michigan Education Association today called on the Michigan Supreme Court to side with public school employees as oral arguments are held in the long-running “3 percent” case, in which more than $550 million was taken from school employees’ paychecks from 2010-12.
In 2010, the Michigan legislature enacted Public Act 75, requiring school districts to withhold 3 percent of school employees’ wages to fund retiree health care for current retirees—a benefit those employees were not even guaranteed to receive.
The MEA, along with AFT Michigan, has waged a court battle for more than seven years seeking the return of the money unconstitutionally taken by the state. Gov. Rick Snyder has chosen to appeal multiple court rulings that ordered the return of the money to the school employees.
“Seven years ago, the state began to withhold money from school employees’ paychecks, and our union fought back,” said MEA President Paula Herbart. “Gov. Snyder – and for the first six years, Attorney General Bill Schuette – insisted on pursuing this case so the state can keep our members’ hard-earned money, despite numerous court rulings that the money was taken illegally and in violation of the Constitution.”
Specifically, the Michigan Court of Appeals concluded that the statute violated federal and state constitutional protections against impairment of contracts; the taking of private property by the government without compensation; and the constitutional guarantee of substantive due process. Snyder appealed that decision to the Michigan Supreme Court last summer, dragging out a case that has kept money from educators for years, while costing taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal expenses.
“Over the past 7 years, teachers and support professionals have had stagnant and declining wages,” said Tom Brenner, high school social studies teacher in Novi and a plaintiff in the case. “I know for my family and those of other school employees, returning the $550 million the state has illegally withheld would have a huge, positive impact.”
Theresa Dudley, another plaintiff in the case who is a school secretary from Grand Rapids, said the illegal deductions fell hard on support staff like her. “That 3% wasn’t just withheld from teacher’s salaries, but also from education support professionals. Most paraprofessionals, secretaries, bus drivers, food service workers, custodians and maintenance staff are already earning very low wages, and the state keeping this money has only made matters worse.”
During the 7-year wait for this case to come to a close, thousands of school employees have moved on from their jobs, either to other careers or retirement. Katherine Daniels was a school psychologist at Tuscola ISD when she became a plaintiff in the case – she retired in 2012 only to return to work recently because of critical shortages in her old job.
“One of the reasons it’s harder to recruit people into this profession are the political attacks like this one,” Daniels said. “The Supreme Court can help to stop this assault on school employee compensation and make sure justice is served for employees and retirees who are waiting for this money – and for the families of those who’ve died waiting for this case to be resolved, like Deborah McMillan, the lead plaintiff in our case who died earlier this year.”
Oral arguments on the 3 percent case will be heard by the Michigan Supreme Court this afternoon. Last night, hundreds of educators attended “Flashlight Vigils” in Lansing and other locations across Michigan to “Shine a Light” on the case and the money still owed to school employees (long after state employees won a similar court case and had their money returned).
Contact: Doug Pratt, MEA Director of Public Affairs, (517) 337-5508