Though Michigan public school teachers receive generous protections against termination, they can be quickly fired for not paying union dues.
Just this year, Kalamazoo Public Schools fired a teacher — not for poor performance or for inappropriate conduct — but because she didn't pay her union $411.25.
The collective bargaining agreement between KPS and the Kalamazoo Education Association allows this, stating that teachers who not pay union dues, or a "fee" of the same amount, "...shall be dismissed from their employment by the District..."
Many Michigan school districts have similar agreements with their union. In the Pontiac School District, for example, teachers who do not pay are fired by the end of the year.
The third page of the collective bargaining contract between the Berkley School District and the Berkley Education Association states that teachers who do not pay dues will be quickly fired.
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 can be fired within a week.
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.”
It is a sad fact that in some districts, it is easier to be fired for not joining a union than it is to be fired for incompetence or inebriation.
Right-to-work legislation, something Lansing is considering, would change this. It would prohibit employees from being fired for not paying a union money.
When the Michigan Education Association argues against right-to-work, it does not mention teacher firings, suggesting that those who do not pay the union money are freeloaders. From the MEA website:
...each person that benefits directly from union representation should pay their fair share of the cost of that representation. Right-to-work allows people to freeload instead.
There are many problems with dismissing teachers who do not want to pay union dues as freeloaders.
Many teachers may not want what the MEA has to offer. Michigan teacher unions tend to bargain for salary schedules that do not reward exceptional teachers and for provisions that use seniority to make layoff decisions. Young, exceptional teachers, for example, are penalized by such contracts. Yet, the MEA is able to use the threat of termination to force those teachers to pay up.
Teachers in other states have said that they disagree with their union's stance on political and social issues.
Employees could also withhold dues from a union to voice discontent with the way the union is operating. Michigan teachers who disagreed with the MEA's choice to spend millions on a ballot proposal that failed overwhelmingly do not have the option of opting out this year.
Numbers from Wisconsin, which recently allowed teachers to opt-out of paying union dues, suggest that many teachers want to leave. The Wisconsin Education Association Council, for example, lost a third of its membership. Those teachers weren't forced to leave the union — they did so freely when given the chance.
The teachers in the Kalamazoo, Pontiac, Berkeley and Hale school districts don't have that option. They are forced to contribute money to an organization that may not adequately represent them, or with which they may not agree on political or personal issues.
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