Jacques: MEA keeps trying to block right to work
Desperate times call for desperate measures. And judging by some of the latest actions from Michigan’s largest teachers union, times are a little rough.
This is the third year the Michigan Education Association, which represents about 110,000 active members, has had to deal with right to work’s August opt-out. The provision that gives employees the right to leave a union and still keep their jobs has created some headaches for the union.
Its latest tactic is to create a separate post office box address for teachers who wish to resign from the MEA.
If teachers missed the memo and sent their letters to the general union P.O. box they are out of luck.
The teachers union has done a remarkable job of pretending right to work doesn’t exist in Michigan and trying to keep as many teachers in its fold as possible — even those who would like to leave.
Prior to the law taking effect in March 2013, the union encouraged districts around the state to pass extended contracts that would prevent teachers from exercising their new rights for several years.
In addition, the union has stubbornly maintained that teachers who want out of the union can only leave during the month of August. This limited August window, which is written into the union’s bylaws, preceded right to work as the time when teachers could decide to pay agency fees instead of full union dues.
But the MEA decided to keep enforcing that time frame even after right to work became law.
Though the union hasn’t done much to let teachers know about this August opt-out period, it has strictly enforced it. The past few years, teachers who alerted the union they wanted out but did it outside the month of August were instructed they were locked into paying dues for another year.
Those who refused to pay were hit with notices from collections agencies that threatened their credit rating.
Some teachers have sued and won their freedom, but others haven’t.
And the MEA still maintains its August window is legal, even though an administrative law judge with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission ruled it illegal last year. The full commission indicated in June it would make a broader ruling on this, but it has failed to do so.
So union leadership is taking advantage of the void. The new P.O. box is a prime example.
“They are playing the strongest card they have,” says Patrick Wright, vice president of legal affairs at the Mackinac Center, which has advocated for teachers who want out of the MEA.
The new resignation process is clearly designed to make things more confusing for members.
The MEA posted a notice of the address change at the bottom of its “members only” page, which was likely missed by a lot of teachers.
To its credit, the union has reportedly responded to some teachers who sent resignation letters to the wrong address, informing them to resend the notice to the new address.
Judging from past years, teachers aren’t lining up to leave the union. In 2013, roughly 10 percent of members working under contracts subject to right to work left the union. Last year, an estimated 60 percent of teachers had the ability to leave — and 8 percent did. Next year, nearly all teachers will be under right to work.
Doug Pratt, director of public affairs for the MEA, says the new P.O. box is there to provide “a single, clear way to communicate the desire to resign and lets the MEA quickly and consistently ensure that members who want to exercise their longstanding right to resign membership can do so.”
Pratt says the union developed the new procedure in June, and alerted all staff and local leaders of the change, in addition to posting it on the MEA website and member publication.
Even as more teachers have the right to leave the union, Pratt says the union isn’t worried about losing members and holds its “continued expectation that the vast majority of members will remain.”
If that’s true, then the MEA would be better off using its energy and resources to convince members to stay with the quality of its services — not playing games with their rights.
Ingrid Jacques is deputy editorial page editor of The Detroit News.