On Feb. 21, 2012, Kalamazoo Public Schools fired a teacher — not for poor performance or for inappropriate conduct — but because she didn't pay her union dues.
According to court documents, Lori Erk went on medical leave in May 2011. Though the district initially approved the leave, it was subsequently unapproved, meaning that Erk had no source of income after June 2011. (Note: Use "Search Form" on MDE website to search for Erk.)
Though Erk was not receiving income from KPS that year, the Kalamazoo Education Association tried to collect $411.25 in dues from her for the 2011-12 school year.
After several written requests, the KEA made its final request in January 2012, when KEA President Millie Lambert sent Erk an email requesting that she pay the $411.25. Erk responded:
I HAVE NO INCOME!!!!!!!!!!!!! Why are you coming after me??? I have always supported KEA and you personally!! I had so much respect for you.
Five weeks later, Erk was terminated.
All of KPS' and the KEA's actions were perfectly legal. Though teachers unions have fought to keep heavy protections for teachers in Michigan's Teacher Tenure Act, many school districts have collective bargaining agreements that result in quick dismissal of teachers who do not pay union dues or fees.
The KPS collective bargaining agreement, for example, states that teachers who do not want to be a member of the KEA are required to pay the union a "fee" that is the same amount as the its dues.
Teachers who do not pay that fee, the agreement states, "...shall be dismissed from their employment by the District..."
Other school districts have similar provisions. Hale Area Schools’ agreement with the Hale Federation of Teachers states that a teacher who does not pay union dues or an equivalent fee to the union within 30 days of being hired can be fired within a week.
Compare these quick terminations to the generous protections and processes provided to teachers, even those who are found to be intoxicated while working.
No serious argument can be made that the practice of firing teachers who do not give money to the union helps students learn. The only possible reason for these terminations (and the threat of termination) is to preserve the power of a single union within the district. Indeed, in the Hale contract, the firing of teachers who do not pay union dues is stipulated under a section labeled “Union Security.”
In Missouri, some districts allow teachers to choose between two unions. Teachers can choose the Missouri Education Association, or the Missouri State Teachers' Association, which is opposed to union members being forced to pay dues to a national union. Some teachers have testified that they choose MSTA because it does not take positions on social issues.
The teachers in the Kalamazoo and Hale school districts have no such option. It is deplorable that some Michigan school districts provide no choice to teachers by agreeing to contracts that require teachers to pay money to the union as a condition of employment. It is worse still that public school districts act as the union’s enforcer when teachers step out of line.
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