In 34 years, teacher says he was never notified of 'August window'
In 34 years of teaching and paying dues to the union, William "Ray" Arthur said he had never heard of the "August window," which the Michigan Education Association says is the only time teachers are allowed to leave the union.
After sending a letter to the Petoskey Education Association resigning his membership, the union said he was a month late. Arthur said the union told him if he didn't pay the dues it could affect his credit and that the union may pursue legal action.
He believes the one month window is problematic for a variety of reasons.
"What is really irritating is that they don't tell you about it," Arthur said.
In the multiple decades that Arthur has belonged to the union he has paid tens of thousands of dollars in dues.
He is now a gym teacher in the district and has been recognized locally and nationally for his work as a wrestling coach. In February 2012, Arthur was inducted into the Petoskey High School Hall of Fame. It was the fifth time Arthur had been enshrined in a local, state or national hall of fame. He finished his wrestling coaching career 10th in the country for all-time victories.
But just over a year later, he said the union told him it would treat him like "any other person who doesn't pay their bills."
"I was pretty shocked by that," Arthur said. "I'm no deadbeat."
Arthur plans to retire at the end of the school year, but decided he no longer needed the union's services. He sent a letter Sept. 16 to the union president saying he wanted to opt out of the union as part of the state's right-to-work law.
In response to being told he was not allowed to leave the union, Arthur filed a complaint with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission against the Petoskey Education Association and the Michigan Education Association. He is being represented in the unfair labor practices complaint by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation.
"What I really expected was a handshake for 34 years of union dues and saying that they were sorry that I was leaving the union and that if I changed my mind this is how I could get back in," he said. "Not, 'You owe me legally six months of union dues' and if I don't pay it, then that might affect some credit or I might get a phone call about legal action or taking me to court and suing me for the legal fees in addition to my union dues. I don't expect that kind of treatment."
Arthur said he was never notified of the August window by his union or the MEA. He said the MEA sends its members dozens of articles to read, but he said he didn't see a thing about what was required to leave the union.
August is the month when teachers have little contact with the school, the union or even fellow union members, he said.
Mary Lieberman, director of the MEA Uniserv office that serves the Petoskey Education Association, didn't return a request for comment. Petoskey Education Association President Jamie Buchanan referred all questions to MEA headquarters. MEA Spokespeople Nancy Knight and Eleanor Mustafa didn't respond to requests for comment.
In a story in The Detroit News, MEA President Steve Cook said the union will prevail. He said the cases were "baseless."
Arthur said the union intentionally withheld information to keep its members in the dark about how they could opt out under the right-to-work law.
"If it's important for [the union] to have my money and it's important for us to have a relationship, they should be transparent and give me all the information that I need to know to make an educated decision," Arthur said. "[They should] not purposefully withhold information from me so that I can't make a qualified decision or the right decision and then lock me into paying those dues."
Other teachers joining Arthur in complaints against their unions include:
- Miriam Chanski, a kindergarten teacher in Coopersville who is a member of the Coopersville Education Association;
- William "Ray" Arthur, a high school teacher in Petoskey who is a member of the Petoskey Education Association;
- Matthew Knapp, an art teacher at Ruben Daniels Middle School and member of the Saginaw Education Association;
- Kurt Alliton, a technology teacher at the Thompson Middle School and member of the Saginaw Education Association;
- Susan Romska, a geometry teacher at Arthur Hill High School and member of the Saginaw Education Association;
- Jason Laporte, a social studies teacher at Arthur Hill High School and member of the Saginaw Education Association;
- Kathy Eady-Miskiewicz, an English teacher at Arthur Hill High School and a member of the Saginaw Education Association.