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School districts, universities skirt right-to-work at a hefty financial risk

March 27, 2013

With right-to-work laws going into effect Thursday, at least 41 school districts and five colleges have approved contracts that allow them to skirt the new and controversial law for at least a few years. Republicans in the state House of Representatives are furious that districts have found a way to avoid the law by extending their contracts and are threatening to financially punish the districts and institutions, potentially costing them thousands -- and in some cases, millions of dollars. House Republicans have voted for budgets that cut funding for the institutions and districts that signed contracts between Dec. 10, 2012 -- the day that the right-to-work bills received final passage and a signature from Gov. Rick Snyder -- and Thursday. Under the law, any contracts in place before the law goes into effect on Thursday, would be legally binding until they expire, including provisions mandating that employees pay union dues. The cuts, which would take effect if the education and community officials can't prove at least a 10 percent savings from the contracts, would: cut 15 percent from state appropriations to universities; eliminate a 2 percent increase that has been slated for community colleges; cut technology and performance grants for K-12 public schools, and withhold some revenue-sharing funds from communities. For universities the cuts are in the millions. U-M could lose up to $47 million and Wayne State University up to $27 million. But, while the proposed cuts may be gaining traction in the state House, they are not as certain to get the votes in the state Senate. "I'm going to be real cautious with anything that has to do with tying appropriations to local decisions," said Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe. And Snyder has been guarded in his comments, pointing out that the budget bills are just starting to move and are subject to many changes. "If people are bargaining in good faith and showing real benefits, I don't believe they should be penalized," he said. "But if they're simply extending the date, then I can see legislators having a concern."