Education, Labor, Teachers, unions — September 4, 2014 at 11:41 am

Administrative law judge rules that MEA must allow teachers to leave union at any time


After losing in court countless times, the corporatist front group Mackinac Center has finally won a round. This week, an administrative law judge ruled that the Michigan Education Association (MEA) teachers union must end its decades-old policy of having an “opt-out month” and allow its members to leave at any time. The judge’s ruling is essentially a recommendation to the the Michigan Employment Relations Council (MERC) which has the final say on the matter.

Members of the Michigan Education Association should be able to resign from the union at any time, and not just during the month of August, an administrative law judge ruled this week.

The ruling could be a blow to the union, which represents teachers and many other school employees. For decades the union’s bylaws have stipulated that members could opt out only between Aug. 1 and Aug. 31. Union officials said in a statement this morning they would appeal.

But in the ruling issued Tuesday, administrative law judge Julia Stern said the restrictions on opting out violate right-to-work rules enacted in 2012 that make it illegal to require dues payment to a union as a condition of employment. The rules were passed during a lame-duck session without any public debate or committee hearings.

The MEA released a statement saying that they disagree with the decision and the recommended order. “This process has been in place for over 40 years and has been affirmed by our membership,” said MEA General Counsel Michael Shoudy. “We remain hopeful that MERC will find the August window to be consistent with the law.”

Over the summer, the Mackinac Center, helped by the Koch brothers front group Americans for Prosperity, engaged in a massive campaign, spending tens of thousands of dollars to encourage MEA members to freeload off the MEA and not pay dues. Despite this effort, fewer than 5% of the MEA’s 110,000 members opted out, according to MEA President Steven Cook.

This is unsurprising. Teachers are, in general, a pretty savvy group of people and know that the Mackinac Center’s campaign was a transparent effort to get them to slit their own throats, politically-speaking. If MEA membership drops significantly, it would restrict their ability to be a voice for teachers in government and politics. The less voice teachers have, of course, the more their wages and benefits can be slashed and the faster the move to profitize public education by turning it over to for-profit charters will happen.

It seems unlikely that the MEA will face a mass exodus in light of this ruling. If the Mackinac Center could only get fewer than 5% of MEA members to quit, it’s clear their message to teachers is largely falling on deaf ears and they have basically scraped the bottom of the barrel in terms of how many they can dupe with their “be a freeloader” campaign.

Still, it’s yet another blow to both collective bargaining and public education, showing just how important the upcoming election is. We have just 60 more days before Election Day. Make sure you’re using the time in the most effective way possible. Until we rid our legislature of corporate puppets willing to pass laws that benefit their benefactors, we can expect more of the same.

Much, much more.

[Photo credit: Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog]