Topics: Labor Unions

Michigan teachers fight unions over forced dues

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Beltway Confidential,Education,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Labor,Analysis,First Amendment,Michigan,Teachers,Teachers Unions

Michigan teachers are discovering that their union is determined to make it as hard as possible for them to take advantage of the state's new right-to-work law, which prohibits workers from being forced to pay dues to a union.

Nine teachers sued the Michigan Education Association in the last week alleging unfair labor practices.

Eight teachers sued the MEA on Monday. They are being represented by the conservative Mackinac Center Legal Foundation. Their complaint alleges the union is violating the intent of the right-to-work law by only giving them a very brief period — the month of August — to drop their membership.

One of the eight, Coopersville teacher Miriam Chanski, told MEA in a May letter she was leaving the union. MEA denied her request because it was sent in too early.

She claims the union did not tell her this at the time. She only learned of the August opt-out window in September. That was when MEA informed her she would now have to pay another year's dues.

"It surprised me that there would be more to the process -- I had not heard anything else," she told the local ABC affiliate.

It got worse for her when MEA said that if she didn't continue to pay, they would report her to a collection agency, which would negatively affect her credit rating.

"My credit is very personal to me and it's something I take pride in," Chanski said.

Last week, Linda Evon, a Pickney special needs classroom assistant, also filed an unfair labor practice complaint against MEA. She said she tried to quit the union Sept. 4, only to be told the deadline had passed on Aug. 31.

Evon is getting legal assistance from the National Right To Work Foundation.

“Across the state, union bosses are pulling out all the stops to keep workers from exercising their rights under Michigan's right-to-work law," said Mark Mix, president of the foundation.

Both groups said they will argue in court that the one-month window violates the right-to-work law's language.

"That was created not by statute, but by bureaucratic fiat when the MEA claimed that processing paperwork from those who wanted to become agency fee-payers was too much of a burden to handle immediately, despite those workers’ First Amendment rights being at stake,” said Patrick J. Wright, director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation.

A spokesman for MEA did not respond to the Washington Examiner's request for comment.

Big Labor hates right-to-work laws because they typically mean fewer members and therefore less dues revenue. Union leaders complain that they cause what economists call a "free rider" problem, since workers still get the benefits of union contract negotiations. Nothing prevents unions from negotiating "members-only" contracts though. They'd just rather have the additional dues coming in.

Ironically, federal labor law effectively puts the unions themselves in charge of implementing the law. As a consequence, situations like those facing Evon and Chanski are fairly common.

Even when members do file within the proper dates, the slightest error in the paperwork can cause the requests to be thrown out. Things have a way of getting lost in the mail, too.

Michigan teachers' unions reacted to the passage of the law by rushing to pass new contracts with the school districts. These new contracts included extended forced dues deduction provisions -- called "security clauses" in labor law jargon -- before the right-to-work law became effective on March 28.

In at least 10 contracts, the security clauses now run eight to 10 years.

South Detroit's Taylor Federation of Teachers Local 1085 negotiated a five-year contract that included a ten-year security clause. Union President Linda Moore was quite matter of fact when I asked her about it in May: "Knowing that we were heading into right-to-work, we negotiated the union security clause as well."

Back in February, three teachers from Taylor sued their unions over the security clause. The case is still pending.

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