The MEA dropped its fight to keep William Arthur (left) and Miriam Chanski locked in the union, but others will have to wait until August to leave.
Union says 7,000 not paying; MEA members can leave the union only during month of August
By TOM GANTERT
The Michigan Education Association could lose thousands of its members in August when the one-month window to leave the state’s largest teachers union begins.
Thousands of teachers already are withholding dues or fees from the union despite promises by the MEA that it will send debt collectors after those who don’t sign up for automatic dues withdrawal.
Patrick Wright, vice president of legal affairs for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said he thinks the MEA could lose as many as 10,000 members this year.
Last week, Doug Pratt, the MEA’s director of member and political engagement, told Michigan Public Radio that 7,000 teachers still had not paid dues or fees to the union. This comes three months after MEA Executive Director Gretchen Dziadosz testified under oath that 8,000 members had had yet to pay their dues.
She said in February that technical issues could be to blame for the large number or that members had not been contacted by their local association. Those who were contacted, she said, were happy to sign up for automatic withdrawal.
Either most of the non-paying members have still not been contacted, or they are holding out until August when they can officially resign from the union.
“We are expecting them to drop thousands if not tens of thousands in dues paying members,” Wright said.
Neither Pratt, nor MEA Spokeswoman Nancy Knight responded to requests for comment.
Michigan’s right-to-work law no longer makes the payment of union dues or fees mandatory as a condition of employment. When union contracts end, workers can decide if they want to belong to the union.
The MEA, however, only allows its members to opt out in a one-month window in August of every year. At issue is how many of the MEA members knew last year they could only file to leave the union in August.
In March, the MEA dropped its fight against two Michigan teachers who filed unfair labor practice complaints against it and allowed them out of the union. Coopersville kindergarten teacher Miriam Chanski and Petoskey High School teacher William “Ray” Arthur said the MEA didn’t make any effort to let them know they could only opt out only in August, but both were repeatedly told how to pay dues.
Arthur believes this August will be different than last.
“I am sure that the majority of teachers now know of the August window,” he said.
The MEA reported having 147,659 members as of Aug. 31, 2013, a reduction of 4,112 members from the previous year, according to documents the union filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.
The American Federation of Teachers-Michigan reported having 21,456 members as of June 30, 2013, a reduction of 1,932 members from the previous year, according to documents it filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.
Michigan’s right-to-work law does not go into effect for employees unless a contract is signed after March of 2013. At least 145 school districts in Michigan worked with unions to extend their union contracts, which do not give teachers and other school employees the option to leave.
(Tom Gantert is senior capitol correspondent for Michigan Capitol Confidential, a daily news site of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute based in Midland.)