Employees Appeal; Cite Union Intimidation
Branch County Intermediate School District employees unhappy with their union's job performance failed to terminate their relationship with the Michigan Education Association (MEA), the state's largest public school employees' union, by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.
Teachers and other school employees dissatisfied with the level of service provided by the 140,000-member MEA filed a petition in October with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC), requesting an official employee referendum on the MEA. MERC is the state agency that oversees relations between government employers and employees.
Among the grievances cited by dissatisfied teachers as the reason for the referendum was the complaint that most had not seen an MEA representative during the entire three-year period of their current contract with the school district.
Despite early support among employees throughout the southern Michigan district, the vote to remove, or "decertify," the MEA as the employees' collective bargaining representative failed 30 to 16, and some employees are crying foul.
"The intimidation and interference tactics used by the MEA caused many of my colleagues to change their votes," said one district employee who asked to remain anonymous. "The union's strategy was to scare these people with loss of their jobs, even though that was not going to happen."
MEA staff members made daily visits to the district from the time the election petition was filed to the day of the election itself, according to attorneys who assisted the employees. MEA staffers from surrounding school districts also attempted to infiltrate meetings intended for Branch County employees only, they said.
"Although they were asked to leave, the MEA representatives succeeded in disrupting the employee gatherings and intimidating the employees," said Robert P. Hunter, the attorney who filed the election petition on behalf of the employees.
As a result, election objections and unfair labor practice charges against the MEA have been filed on behalf of the Branch County employees, said the attorney. The charges state that the MEA's conduct interfered with the right of employees to cast an informed vote, he said.
MERC is expected to rule on the charges against the MEA in February.