In December 2012, when Michigan became the nation’s 24th right-to-work state, the Michigan Education Association devised a plan to lock unwilling members in a union-dues cage. The strategy, laid out in a message sent by MEA President Steve Cook to “MEA local presidents, board members and staff,” called for extending contracts so that the union could continue to force workers to pay or be fired. MEA officials also used its nonpublicized “August window” as a means to keep those who wanted to leave the union from doing so. Cook’s memo said, “We will use any legal means at our disposal to collect the dues owed. …” It also said, “ … if they wish to resign their membership, they must do so in August — and only August.” That was before the MEA realized teachers would be standing their ground and using the power of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation to defend their rights. Both Ray Arthur and Miriam Chanski defeated the MEA when they were allowed to leave outside of the month of August. But the MEA held on to every other teacher who tried to leave outside of the so-called August window. Through litigation, the Mackinac Center convinced the Michigan Employment Relations Commission that the August window is illegal, since state law (right-to-work) supersedes a union policy.
When the MEA seemingly had run out of tricks, having lost through litigation that led to the “August window” being ruled illegal, it had another scheme in the works.
Education workers represented by the MEA began opting out of the union in August, sending their resignation letters to MEA headquarters as thousands have done the last two years. Then, however, workers began receiving letters back from the MEA saying they had not resigned properly. The letters said a new post office box had been set up for resignations, one that the educators had not seen before. Buried at the very bottom of the MEA’s “members only” Web page is a brief statement saying that starting June 3, 2015, those who want to resign from the MEA must do so by sending their resignations to P.O. Box 51, East Lansing, MI 48826.
Teachers contacted the Mackinac Center concerned about whether they would be able to opt out of the union. Mackinac Center Vice President for Legal Affairs Patrick Wright recommended that those teachers who have made the decision to leave should send a second letter to the new P.O. Box just to be safe.
Upon hearing what the MEA had done, state and national media outlets began paying attention to the great lengths the MEA would go to lock workers into paying the union. Frank Beckmann featured Patrick Wright on his radio show days after the tactic was discovered. The Washington Examiner also wrote about the address switcheroo, along with The Detroit News and the Vic McCarty radio program.
The Mackinac Center received many “thank-you” messages from teachers who have received information they could use as they seek to make an informed decision regarding resignation.
One said: “Well, a huge thank you to you and your team for giving me the confidence to go through with this! I received a postcard in the mail two weeks ago regarding the website. My husband and I had already talked about me opting out, but the website was very empowering. I feel somewhat alone in this venture within my district, but it is good to know that I am not alone within the state and that many others share in my frustration. The letter template was extremely helpful and made me feel confident going through the process. For all of your stress, keep up the good work and fighting for helping teachers!”
Another said of his letter to the MEA, “They also told me they forwarded it to the correct department but it would still not be accepted until I resent it. I told them that only confirms my decision to leave their organization. I received the certified mail receipt today and am waiting for their next response.”