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Still Have Agency Shop Language in Your Collective Bargaining Agreement?

Kacie Kefgen

By Kacie Kefgen, MASB Assistant Director of Labor Relations and Legal Services

DashBoard, Feb. 14, 2018

Bottom linedo not ratify another agreement with such language in it. The potential for a legal battle, negative news and fines is not worth it.

What is agency shop language?

“Agency shop language” is the shorthand phrase used to describe contract language that compels an employee to either join a union or pay service fees to a union in order to maintain employment. Up until the Right to Work statute changes in 2012, Michigan employees at unionized workplaces were often forced by labor contracts to either be members of the union or pay service fees to the union in order to keep their jobs.

What does the law say now?

Since March 28,2013, when the Right to Work changes went into effect, employees have had the right to refrain from union activity and to refuse to pay union dues or fees to keep their jobs, unless there was a collective bargaining agreement already in place that said otherwise. In response, some unions negotiated CBAs that were ratified just before March 28, 2013, which included agency shop language into the future. Then, some unions and school districts continued to maintain such language in CBAs ratified well after 2013.

What happened in a district that kept the language?

The Clarkston Education Association and Clarkston Community Schools did just that, including agency shop language in contracts covering the school years from 2015-2017. On Aug. 20, 2015, one of the district’s teachers resigned his union membership and refused to pay dues or service fees. On Aug. 31, 2015, the teacher received a letter from the union stating that he was required, as a condition of employment, to be either a member of the union or to pay the service fee. The teacher’s attorney sent a letter to the union disputing this, but he never received a response to the letter. In November of that year, he filled unfair labor practice charges against the union and the school district, alleging that they had violated his rights by threatening termination if he did not pay dues or fees.

What did the Michigan Employment Relations Commission say about that?

In Clarkston Community Schools and Clarkston Education Association, MEA and Ron Conwell, MERC Case Nos. C15 K-148 and CU15 K-039 (9/18/2017), MERC recently told the union and the district to pay fines for violating the teacher’s right to not join a union or pay service fees. MERC concluded that, “by maintaining the unlawful agency shop provision, [the district and the union] have coerced or restrained [the teacher] in the exercise of his rights under § 9 of PERA and by so doing, . . . violated . . . PERA.”

As you prepare for the upcoming bargaining season, be sure to highlight any language in the expiring contract that may be problematic or even illegal. If you are unsure about some of your old language, please contact your district legal counsel or the Legal Team here at MASB.

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