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:

  1. 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?"
  2. Approach younger teachers: They are among the most open-minded and cognizant that big unions cannot defy economic realities.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Recognize that inertia is a choice: Teachers will feel inaction is safer, failing to consider the personal financial loss from higher MEA dues.
  8. Stress teacher control: Independent unions have more say in how dues are spent.
  9. 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.