Teachers begin exodus from unions in Michigan

Paul Kersey

Labor law expert, occasional smart-aleck, defender of the free society.

Paul Kersey
/ Labor
September 11, 2014

Teachers begin exodus from unions in Michigan

After a year-long campaign by the nonpartisan Mackinac Center and other groups to inform Michigan’s teachers of their right to leave their union, around 5,000 teachers have decided to do so. But more than 100,000 teachers in the state remain under union control. And the Michigan Education Association, or MEA, is claiming victory for managing...

After a year-long campaign by the nonpartisan Mackinac Center and other groups to inform Michigan’s teachers of their right to leave their union, around 5,000 teachers have decided to do so.

But more than 100,000 teachers in the state remain under union control. And the Michigan Education Association, or MEA, is claiming victory for managing to hold on to 95 percent of its members in the Right-to-Work state.

This might seem like a pretty good record for Michigan’s most powerful teachers union. But those losses will still cost them close to $3 million in state, local and national union dues. And there’s good reason to think more defections are on the way. The union could be at the beginning of a long, slow slide that leaves it much less wealthy and influential than it once was.

Michigan’s Right-to-Work law took effect in March 2013, but it does not apply immediately to all workers. Under the law, union contracts can no longer include a clause that forces all workers covered by the contract to either join the union or pay an agency fee in place of regular union dues. This means that workers throughout Michigan – public school teachers included – cannot be forced to financially support a union as a condition of keeping their jobs. But all the old contracts remain in effect. As the old contracts run out, more and more teachers will gain the freedom to leave.

Further complicating matters, the state has allowed the MEA to continue its policy of only allowing members to resign during the month of August. An administrative law judge in Michigan has called for the union to change this bizarre policy and allow resignations at any time. But for now, teachers still must wait until August to leave the MEA.

Informing teachers about their right to quit paying union dues was an important task largely carried out by the Mackinac Center and its director of labor policy, Vinnie Vernuccio. The Center and its allies relied on a variety of methods to get their message out, including full-page newspaper ads and reminder cards mailed to teachers. “We would rather have had the MEA inform their members about their byzantine requirements,” says Vernuccio, “but since they say that informing members of their rights isn’t the union’s job, we decided to make it ours.”

There are likely to be many teachers who have serious disagreements with the MEA over such things as school choice, partisan politics or merit pay. As more of them are able to leave, and are informed about the workings of the Right-to-Work law, there will probably be more defections. The MEA may consider itself successful for having held on to 95 percent of its members, but this is just one summer. There is plenty of time for them to lose more members and money if they refuse to rethink their positions.

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