While Arthur was seeing salary freezes all around him, MEA employees were seeing double-digit wage increases.
On paper, Ray Arthur and Miriam Chanski could not be more different from each other. He was a 35-year teaching veteran and hard-nosed Hall of Fame wrestling coach. She was a second-year kindergarten teacher, just starting her career.
But they had one thing in common — they wanted out of the Michigan Education Association, which was charging them $1,000 annually just to work. Michigan’s right-to-work law gave them freedom to leave.
But it wasn’t so simple to exercise. The union had bylaws enforcing what it called an “August Window.” That one-month period was the only time in the year during which union members could resign from the union, the MEA said. It happened to be during the summer break, when many teachers are busy elsewhere, and the requirement was so obscure that even long-time educators had never heard of it.
In Petoskey, Arthur was nearing retirement. He weighed the pros and cons of remaining a member during his last year of teaching. But he decided he couldn’t stick with the union. It had grown in such size and scope that it had lost its original intent and purpose, and its top 10 executives all made more than the governor. More than 100 of its employees made six-figure incomes, far more than the typical teacher. While Arthur was seeing salary freezes all around him, MEA employees were seeing double-digit wage increases.
To Miriam, leaving the union was nothing personal. She hadn’t given much thought to either joining or leaving until a union official came into her elementary classroom to get her credit card number and collect dues. She didn’t feel comfortable with it and, after talking to friends and family, decided to opt out. But when she was back at work the next school year, she was informed that she had missed the August Window and would have to pay back dues — or the union could send a collection agency after her.
Similar stories were taking place across the state. In fact, around 8,000 educators had decided to stop paying dues. This, the union said, violated their internal rules. Many school employees were sent to collection agencies — but thousands more decided to formally opt out of the union.
In Saginaw, the public school district was in dire straits. It had been shedding students for years, and teachers working in the struggling district often thought the union wasn’t doing anything to help.
Matt Knapp was an 11-year art teacher. When he first started teaching, Knapp attempted to not join the union. To his surprise, he was told it was a condition of employment. When Michigan finally became a right-to-work state, he tried to leave. The union refused, citing the arbitrary August Window, and said that the deadline had come and gone while school was out.
Jason LaPorte, a social studies teacher, also tried to leave the union. He felt that union officials should have informed members of their new rights and took advantage of them when they didn’t. LaPorte isn’t anti-union in general, but doesn’t believe teachers should have to provide a reason or feel guilty for making a personal decision.
Geometry teacher Susan Romska disagrees with the politics of the union. It’s not what she believes in. The right-to-work law should have given her the ability to leave, and the union was denying that. As was the case of many others, her path to leave the union was more difficult than it should have been. She had to take her case to the state’s labor agency simply to exercise her right to leave.
Kathy Eady-Miskiewicz, an English teacher, got plenty of information along the way on how to pay dues, but never a word about her new right to leave. She had paid thousands of dollars over the years, but was denied the ability to stop paying those funds.
Five teachers sued the Saginaw Education Association and Michigan Education Association for unfair labor practices, joining the many others across Michigan represented by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation. In the end, they all won their freedom — and the ability to join or leave their union more easily and when they want.
Thanks to the efforts of these educators, freedom is no longer a one-month-a-year concept in Michigan