August 1, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Mackinac Center posts form online for teachers who want to resign from union

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy posted a form Friday on its website for Michigan Education Association members who want to resign their union membership during the union’s August window.

At www.AugustOptOut.org, the form allows users to fill in their contact information, which generates a letter that can then be sent to the MEA, National Education Association and the local union, center officials said.

The MEA, the state’s largest education union, has said about 1 percent or 1,500 of its members decided not to financially support the union during its August resignation period in 2013. The conservative Mackinac Center has contended the union didn’t do enough to notify members of the August resignation period.

About 8,000 MEA members had not filled out paperwork to have dues automatically deducted from their paychecks back in February. The disclosure came at a Michigan Employment Relations Commission hearing.

MEA spokesman Doug Pratt said the Mackinac Center continues to misconstrue the law and “push their agenda” for an MEA-free state.

“They’ve filed legal challenges before on our 40-year-old resignation procedures and lost. Nothing about ‘right-to-work’ has changed the law on this,” Pratt said. “In fact, the law states that it doesn’t impact a private organization’s ability to set its own membership procedures.

“The fact that a so-called “free market think tank” is continually attacking a private organization’s ability to enter into a contract with people is astounding.”

The MEA, he said, is more focused on providing value to members and communicating with them about the reasons why it’s important to retain their membership.

The MEA and American Federation of Teachers-Michigan are actively seeking dues from members because they can no longer collect them from all employees in one fell swoop. Union dues are voluntary under the law and state law prohibits school districts from gathering employee union dues.

Teacher unions must now get credit card or bank account numbers from its members to collect dues. The MEA recently created a policy that will send a collection agency after members who are 90 days late on dues and three attempts have been made to contact them.

At least two Michigan teachers who tried to resign from the MEA under the state’s right-to-work law that won the right to leave their union in March this year.

Miriam Chanski, a kindergarten teacher in Coopersville Area Public Schools, and Ray Arthur, a teacher in the Petoskey school district, filed unfair labor practice complaints against the MEA with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission after they were not allowed to leave their teacher unions when the law took effect in March 2013.

The teachers said they were intimidated for trying to exercise their rights under the right-to-work law — watershed legislation when it went into effect in the birthplace of the United Auto Workers union. The law allows employees in a unionized workplace to resign from the union and not pay dues. The MEA bylaws indicate that resignation must occur during August, but the teachers say that fact was not publicized.

Chanski, who paid $1,000 annually to be in her local teachers union, said it was a personal decision to leave it. She made it known she wanted out in July but was told by the MEA she opted to leave too early.

JChambers@detroitnews.com