Bullying Failed, So Teachers Union May Try Honey To Attract Dues Payments

Bill collectors out, membership engagement director in

Four years after Michigan’s right-to-work law was passed, the state’s largest teachers union appears to be taking a different response to the fact that school employees no longer have to pay union dues or fees.

The Michigan Education Association has significantly cut back the amount it spends on collection agencies sent after school employees who didn’t pay dues. It has also created a new high-paying position — a director of membership engagement — according to documents filed with the federal government.

Attempts to engage school employees who can no longer be legally compelled to pay dues would make sense considering how much the MEA’s dues revenue has declined. The union collected $64.4 million from school employees in 2012-13, when they had no choice but to pay the MEA. This amount fell to $56.7 million in 2013-14 when the law began taking effect. (The law only applies when a contract that was in place before it came into effect ends.)

During the 2015-16 school year, the amount fell further to $49.7 million. MEA union dues cost a maximum of $630 a year or 1.5 percent of a union member’s salary, according to the union’s filing.

The MEA did not respond to an email seeking comment.

With an annual revenue decline of almost $15 million, the MEA may be shifting strategies about how it operates in the right-to-work world.

The union has taken an aggressive strategy in the past against school employees who opt out of paying dues. Even with the new law, many school employees were bullied by local MEA affiliates by having their names posted in union newsletters. And the MEA sent collection agencies against employees it claimed were delinquent in paying their dues.

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Union officials repeatedly insulted people who exercised their legal right by calling them “freeloaders,” a practice they appear to have stopped. The union has also scaled back collection efforts. The MEA spent $12,823 on collection agencies in 2013-14. It increased that spending to $152,554 in 2014-15 but lowered it to $76,600 in 2015-16.

There was also a new position created in 2014-15. Robin Langley, formerly listed as the southern zone director with a salary of $166,345 in 2016, was designated the new director of membership engagement.

“While not defined as of yet, the new MEA ‘director of membership engagement’ would seem to be something of a salesman, whose job will be to convince teachers that the union can benefit them,” said Larry Sand, head of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, an organization with a goal to educate people about unions. “Sure is better than the old way which essentially forced teachers to pay bribes to the union as a condition of employment.”