Thursday, July 13, 2017
MIDLAND – An administrative law judge has issued a recommendation affirming an Ann Arbor teacher’s right to leave his union, raising questions about the enforceability of a number of union contracts throughout Michigan that attempt to hold workers hostage despite the state’s right-to-work law.
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy — which is representing the teacher at the heart of the case, Ronald Robinson, and other educators throughout the state — called on the Michigan Education Association (MEA) and its affiliates to stop sending collection agencies after teachers.
“The MEA shouldn’t be using a collection agency to threaten the credit ratings and family finances of teachers who just want to peacefully leave the union,” said Mackinac Center Legal Foundation Senior Attorney Derk Wilcox. “If the Michigan Employment Relations Commission accepts the judge’s recommendation, all the pain the MEA caused its former members will not only have been morally wrong, but legally unjustified.”
Robinson, a science teacher at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, first joined the union in 1993 but decided to leave in 2015. He left because he felt it was unresponsive to members, protected bad teachers, neglected to respond to teacher grievances in a timely manner and failed to negotiate better contracts. Though Michigan’s right-to-work law that allows him to do this went into effect March 28, 2013, the Ann Arbor Education Association and Ann Arbor Public Schools had entered into a union security agreement after the law was signed and days before it took effect in an attempt to force teachers to pay dues until 2016.
When Robinson told the union he wanted to leave, it told him to pay up. As a result, he feared he’d be sent to collections and see his credit rating destroyed. Indeed, between 2013 and 2016, the MEA received more than $241,000 from teachers it had sent to collections.
Citing a ruling in another Mackinac Center case, the administrative law judge found that union security agreements entered into between the time right-to-work was signed and took effect are not enforceable. At the time, dozens of such contracts existed.
“This is a clear case of the union leaders protecting the union’s money and power at the expense of the very people they were supposed to represent,” said Mackinac Center Vice President for Legal Affairs Patrick J. Wright. “Judge Julia Stern says the Ann Arbor contract and others like it are unenforceable. This provides an opportunity for the MEA to reconsider its hardline tactics against its current and former members until this matter is resolved.”
Wright suggested the MEA’s aggressiveness in attempting to retain members in such a fashion may be due to its financial situation.
“The MEA’s most recent annual report revealed that the union has more than $130 million in pension liabilities and $166 million in retiree health care liabilities, but only $67 million in assets of any kind,” Wright said. “MEA leadership has mismanaged their way into a deep hole, and they act as if they see their members as dollar signs instead of people.”
As the result of other Mackinac Center cases defending teachers’ ability to use the right-to-work law, the MEA was forced to acknowledge that teachers may indeed work without being forced to join the union and that they may leave the union any time of year. It says members should submit their intent to leave, signed and dated, in writing, and suggests they include their membership number and name of the local association and employer via certified mail, return receipt requested to the following address:
P.O. Box 51
East Lansing MI 48826
The MEA also accepts resignations by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Administrative Law Judge’s Recommendation
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