MEA should be cheerleader for teachers, not bully
Martin Public Schools teacher Peter Boyd made a strategic decision last year.
After 37 years in education, Boyd felt he wasn't getting much out of his union dues. So in August 2013, the West Michigan science teacher left his teachers union.
Boyd was given no choice but to join the union when he started teaching in public schools, after two decades in parochial schools.
When right to work took effect in Michigan in early 2013, that changed.
"I had no reason to stay," Boyd says.
Many other teachers feel the same way.
Yet the Michigan Education Association can't seem to wrap its head around the fact thousands of its members want out.
Rather than contemplate what that means about the quality of service it provides educators, the largest teachers union in Michigan is going into attack mode.
Two new laws in this state have made life much tougher for the union. Right to work and another law that prevents schools from automatically collecting union dues both dealt blows to the MEA last year.
And now a decision last week from an administrative law judge could make it even easier for teachers to leave the union if they wish.
To counter right to work, MEA officials have maintained a limited August window for teachers to leave the union.
But a judge with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission ruled that an organization's bylaws don't override state law.
This latest decision directly impacts four Saginaw teachers, but it signals good news for others across the state who would like to exercise their rights under state law.
"There are a lot of legal steps left," says Patrick Wright, vice president for legal affairs at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has helped teachers fight the August window. "But it's an awful nice start of a long journey."
But it's one the MEA will fight every step of the way, sometimes by demonizing teachers who opt out.
In a post titled "The Mackinac Center is Not Your Friend!" on the MEA website last month, Boyd is made out as the bad guy for helping the free market center let teachers know about the August opt-out window.
And Boyd's name was on a mass email sent out to teachers earlier this summer. That email, instead of acknowledging Boyd as a longtime teacher, refers to him as someone "affiliated with the Mackinac Center."
Around 15,000 teachers were eligible to leave the union in 2013, and 10 percent did. Many others were unaware of the August-only window to opt out. Some either tried to leave later in the fall, or just stopped paying dues altogether as a way to signal their desire to get out. An estimated 8,000 teachers didn't pay dues last year.
This August, about 60,000 teachers were working under contracts ratified after right to work, and 5,000 left. The MEA has around 110,000 active members, many of whom still work under contracts not yet subject to right to work.
Susan Bank, a special education teacher in the Novi Community School District, was one of those who stopped paying dues last year. Now the MEA is threatening her credit.
After 40 years, the special education teacher says she wasn't pleased with the union's customer service, and saw her dues as a poor investment.
"I was wondering what I was getting," says Bank, who is challenging the MEA in Oakland County Circuit Court.
If the MEA wants to keep the majority of its teachers, improving service might be a better tactic than bullying.
Ingrid Jacques is deputy editorial page editor of The Detroit News.