The Corner

Michigan Judge: State Right-to-Work Law Trumps Union Policies

Michigan teachers may be able to opt out of union membership more easily, now that an administrative law judge with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission has ruled that state law (in this case, right-to-work legislation) trumps organized-labor bylaws.

The teachers’ union has been desperate to stop the hemorrhage, so since the 2012 passage of right-to-work legislation, it’s tried several tactics to undermine the law and lock teachers in.

The Michigan Education Association (MEA) implemented a one-month opt-out period, which it didn’t advertise, and claimed teachers who missed it were simply out of luck.

That opt-out period was the subject of the administrative law judge’s decision, as Ingrid Jacques writes in the Detroit News:

This latest decision directly impacts four Saginaw teachers, but it signals good news for others across the state who would like to exercise their rights under state law.

“There are a lot of legal steps left,” says Patrick Wright, vice president for legal affairs at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has helped teachers fight the August window. “But it’s an awful nice start of a long journey.”

But it’s one the MEA will fight every step of the way, sometimes by demonizing teachers who opt out.

Indeed—we reported last year on a teacher who tried to quit the union, only to have Big Labor bosses threaten to unleash the creditors on him.

And as Jacques writes, when 37-year teaching veteran Peter Boyd chose to help the Mackinac Center publicize the one-month opt-out period, the MEA sent out a mass email entitled “The Mackinac Center is Not Your Friend!” As Jacques notes, “That email, instead of acknowledging Boyd as a longtime teacher, refers to him as someone ‘affiliated with the Mackinac Center.’”

The unions have also entered unusually long-term contracts to lock teachers into union membership, as we reported last year; altogether, around 110,000 MEA members are stuck paying dues under contracts inked before right-to-work laws took effect.

Despite these shenanigans (and perhaps because of them), an increasing number of Michigan teachers have chosen to opt out:

Around 15,000 teachers were eligible to leave the union in 2013, and 10 percent did. Many others were unaware of the August-only window to opt out. Some either tried to leave later in the fall, or just stopped paying dues altogether as a way to signal their desire to get out. An estimated 8,000 teachers didn’t pay dues last year.

Read Jacques’ excellent column here.

— Jillian Kay Melchior is a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

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