Mackinac Center Legal Foundation

Union Violates Teacher's Right to Leave His Union

Michael Fernhout, fifth grade teacher in Wyoming, Michigan, decided it was time to opt out of his union. “I wanted out because even though unions do a lot of work, I wasn’t benefiting from it… [and] the membership fees were astronomical.”

The Issue

Like many teachers, Michael wanted the option and freedom to leave his union. After Michigan became a right-to-work state in 2013, teachers like Michael were finally granted this freedom. Unfortunately, despite Michael submitting two official opt-out letters to the Michigan Education Association (MEA) back in 2015, he was still being charged membership fees. “I kept getting membership fees and I didn’t understand because I clearly opted out”. Despite Michael’s confusion, the MEA continued charging agency fee’s and eventually issued a collections action against him.

Michael Fernhout, fifth grade teacher in Wyoming Michigan

For the MEA, right-to-work becoming law meant the end of compulsory fees. This means people can choose whether or not they support a union. No matter how many people elected to choose to leave, right to work meant MEA's wallet would take a hit. To deal with the loss, the MEA refers cases like Michael's to debt collectors. This is a strong arm tactic to scare people into paying dues and unfortunately, Michael's problem isn't unique. The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation has stepped in to represent Michael Fernhout and argues that the fee’s he is being charged are erroneous.