LANSING — The Michigan Court of Appeals this week refused to stay the Michigan Employment Relations Commission’s (MERC) decision declaring the Michigan Education Association’s (MEA) August Window illegal.
The MEA conceded that, without the stay, teachers could resign from the MEA at any time, saying:
If this Court declines to grant their request for a stay, enforcement of the Commission’s decision would require the Associations to cease enforcement of their August resignation window policy and to accept membership resignations submitted at any time during the pendency of their appeal.
In October 2013, Saginaw teachers Jason LaPorte, Susan Romska, Kathy Eady-Miskiewicz and Matthew Knapp charged the MEA with threatening to turn them over to a collections agency for not paying their dues, despite the fact that the teachers had informed the union they wanted to opt out of membership. The MEA failed to inform the teachers of the short “August Window” resignation period and insisted they must continue paying dues until the following August when they could make second attempts to resign.
The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation worked on behalf of the teachers’ right to resign, and in September, MERC unanimously ruled in favor of the four teachers. MERC found that the MEA committed an unfair labor practice and violated the Public Employment Relations Act (PERA) by only allowing teachers to leave the union during the month of August.
“Teachers deserve to decide which organizations they want to be part of and which they do not and this week’s ruling ensures they are truly able to exercise their rights,” said Patrick Wright, director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation. “Despite workers gaining the right to work, the MEA has continued to force teachers to pay into the union well beyond the point they decide to drop membership. That should stop now.”
As part of the MERC ruling, the MEA is required to notify members via print and online editions of the Association’s Voice magazine of the following:
NOTICE TO UNION MEMBERS
AFTER A PUBLIC HEARING, THE MICHIGAN EMPLOYMENT RELATIONS COMMISSION HAS FOUND THE SAGINAW EDUCATION ASSOCIATION AND THE MICHIGAN EDUCATION ASSOCIATION TO HAVE COMMITTED UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICES IN VIOLATION OF THE MICHIGAN PUBLIC EMPLOYMENT RELATIONS ACT (PERA). PURSUANT TO THE TERMS OF THE COMMISSION’S ORDER,
WE HEREBY NOTIFY OUR MEMBERS THAT:
WE WILL NOT restrain and coerce employees in the exercise of their rights under §9 of PERA to refrain from joining or assisting in labor organizations.
WE WILL NOT maintain or enforce a rule that prohibits members from resigning their union memberships except during the month of August.
WE WILL NOT refuse to accept Kathy Eady-Miskiewicz’s September 18, 2013 resignation from her union membership, Jason LaPorte’s September 18, 2013 resignation from his union membership, Susan Romska’s September 20, 2013 resignation from her union membership, and Matt Knapp’s October 7, 2013 resignation from his union membership.
WE WILL remove the last sentence of Article I from the bylaws or amend it to reflect the fact that it can no longer be enforced as written.
WE WILL affirmatively notify Kathy Eady-Miskiewicz, Jason LaPorte, Susan Romska, and Matt Knapp in writing that their resignations in September and October 2013 have been accepted.
While it is still possible that the higher courts could overturn the MERC decision, it is unlikely. MERC based its order on long-standing federal precedent based on language almost identical to Michigan’s law under the new right-to-work law. Members wishing to drop union membership immediately are in a strong legal position to do so, but Wright cautioned them to research the matter, analyze the risks and make the final decision for themselves.
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