MEA says it's dedicated to enforcing the one-month only window for teachers to exercise their rights
For eligible Michigan teachers, August provides a narrow window of opportunity to drop their union membership and escape the requirement of paying union dues or fees.
August currently is the only month in which teachers can exercise their rights granted under the state's right-to-work law. Unlike other union workers, who can leave the forced payment of dues or fees at any time of the year when their contracts expire.
Teachers who are satisfied with their current union are free to keep their membership and continue supporting it financially.
The issue has had the Michigan Education Association concerned for months. In January, MEA President Steve Cook said the union would use "any legal means at our disposal" to work against teachers who want to leave the union outside of the August window.
Cook revisited the issue again recently when he sent an email to MEA members claiming, among other things, that an independent union that decertified from the MEA significantly increased costs for its members. That claim was not true, but his email brought to light the August timeline for departures.
"We were concerned (about teachers not knowing about the August window), but then in an attempt to squash our efforts to get the information out, Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook ended up spreading the word," said F. Vincent Vernuccio, labor policy director for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
"We believe that under the right-to-work law, educators should be able opt-out at any time," Vernuccio said. "However, for the time being, we know they can opt-out in August, so we want to make sure those who want to leave their union will be able to take advantage of their worker freedom rights."
The Mackinac Center has setup the website, www.MIWorkerFreedom.org, to provide information, explain the importance of the law, host videos of union workers talking about exercising their rights and post opt-out letters.
Teachers who are working under right-to-work contracts that pre-date March 28, 2013, when the law went into effect, still have an option to pay fees instead of dues, which typically are less.
"They can opt-out and just become agency payers or religious objectors as they've been able to do for several years," Vernuccio said. "Another option for teachers who no longer want to be in the MEA would be to decertify in favor of a local-only union. It's a way of enjoying the privileges of collective bargaining without supporting the six-figure salaries of union leaders in Washington and Lansing. That's what teachers in Roscommon did last year. In Roscommon, the change resulted in lower union dues."
(Editor's note: This story has been slightly edited since its original posting.)