In 2012, teachers in Roscommon Area Public Schools took a bold step. They decertified from the Michigan Education Association and formed their own independent union.
According to the president of the new union, Jim Perialas, teachers are saving $400 a year in dues and getting better representation for the money. Breaking away from the MEA took time and effort. In an interview, Perialas offered tips for teachers considering similar action:
- Be prepared: The MEA does not go away easily. Expect top union officials to lobby teachers individually using guilt and misinformation as tactics. Be ready to answer questions such as: "Why should we be disloyal?" and, "How can we build financial resources similar to the MEA?"
- Approach younger teachers: They are among the most open-minded and cognizant that big unions cannot defy economic realities.
- Wait until staunch MEA teachers retire: This may take several years, Perialas said, but senior teachers have the most to gain from entrenched unions and will be resistant to change.
- Tell teachers about the benefits of an independent union: Teachers can save hundreds of dollars a year by retaining their own legal counsel and getting insurance services themselves. There are a number of groups that will help teachers find such resources such as the Association of American Educators.
- Use online resources for salary information: Most of the data the MEA uses for this service can now be found online behind the "Transparency Reporting" buttons on public school district websites.
- Set a budget: Develop a financial plan that will include prices for liability insurance, retainer fees for an attorney and building a financial war chest. Dues for Roscommon teachers are now set at $600 per year, which allows the union to pay for those expenses and puts aside $25,000 each year toward a $100,000 savings goal. Dues are expected to decrease in four years.
- Recognize that inertia is a choice: Teachers will feel inaction is safer, failing to consider the personal financial loss from higher MEA dues.
- Stress teacher control: Independent unions have more say in how dues are spent.
- Recognize that independent unions are an alternative to the right-to-work law: Teachers are less inclined to quit when they think there is value in a union.
It took three attempts over a 21-year period for the Roscommon teachers to decertify from the MEA, but Perialas says it should not take others that long. Organizers of a decertification effort must fully understand the political climate in their district before making the attempt.
Michigan law prohibits unions that have been decertified from re-organizing for two years, but teachers in Roscommon have said they are confident they will withstand such an effort and serve as an example for other districts.