'Got Your Back' or Stab It: Union Sics Bill Collectors on Right-to-Work Exercisers

MEA spends $152K going after members trying to leave

A leaked memo revealed how the state’s largest teachers union planned to get around Michigan’s new right-to-work law soon after it was enacted. The law repeals the power previously enjoyed by the union to get a school employee fired for not paying it dues or fees.

In the memo from December 2012, Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook laid out the union’s strategy:

“We will use any legal means at our disposal to collect the dues owed under signed membership forms from any members who withhold dues prior to terminating their membership in August for the following fiscal year. Same goes for any current fee payers who choose not to pay their service fee.”

Informational filings the union is required to submit to the federal government show how the MEA is now doubling down on these efforts. Among other things, it has gone so far as to send collection agencies after school employees who choose to exercise the rights protected by the new law, with potentially damaging effects on their credit ratings.

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In 2014, the MEA reported paying bill collectors $12,843 to go after former union members. The union dialed up the campaign in 2015 when it paid collection agencies $152,554.

The MEA didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. It did say in 2014 that 8,000 members had stopped paying dues.

There are several reasons why the MEA could be spending more to harass school employees.

For years, the MEA only allowed members to stop being considered a member during the month of August. Before right-to-work became law, employees who left the union only got a slight discount, because they still had to pay "agency fees."

Under right-to-work, by contrast, school employees and most other workers cannot be forced to pay anything to the union. The "August window" was one of the union's methods to stymie the intent of the law. But last year the Michigan Employment Relations Commission ruled the restriction illegal. In its monthly newsletter, the union announced it will allow employees to stop paying during any month, but was appealing the commission's ruling.

Then in August in 2015 the MEA tried another gambit: It mailed a letter to employees announcing that resignation requests sent to the union headquarters in East Lansing would not, in fact, be honored. Only requests sent to a particular post office box number would be honored.

“MEA has rigged the game so that teachers have to jump through hoops to leave the union. And the hoops in Michigan are quite arcane. MEA is obviously desperate to keep its gravy train in motion and will do so by hook — or crook,” said Larry Sand, the president of the nonprofit California Teachers Empowerment Network.

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