Special Report - Out of Touch with America: Are Unions Obsolete?

Chapter III:

Right to work vs. card check: Unions face challenges


Policy: Labor

Unions in right-to-work states make opting out nearly impossible

By |
Opinion,Sean Higgins,Labor,Indiana,Michigan,Right to work,Labor Series,Are Unions Obsolete,Meeting the challenge

Part of the Washington Examiner's weeklong commentary series on labor unions. To see the entire series, click here.

In October, a year after his state had adopted a right-to-work law, Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook announced that his union had retained 99 percent of its members.

That was a surprise. Right-to-work laws are associated with unions losing members. That is the not-so-secret reason why many businesses and conservative groups favor them and why Big Labor and liberals oppose them.

“After the other side set up websites, held seminars and town halls, and sent tens of thousands of emails directly to members, 99 percent of the MEA membership said, ‘No, thank you,’ ” Cook crowed.

Out of Touch With America: Are Unions Obsolete?

A five-chapter special report by the Washington Examiner.

Chapter 1: Big Labor’s identity crisis
» Big Labor's identity crisis
» The decline of the labor union
» Diana Furchtgott-Roth: Public employees unions help boost state debt crisis
Chapter 2: Unions and the Democratic Party
» Democrats know better than to bite the Big Labor hand that feeds them
» Steven Malanga: When unions use non-member dues to finance political activities
Chapter 3: Right to work vs. Card Check: Unions face challenges
» Despite repeated failures, Card Check still top Big Labor priority
» Right-to- work surge is reviving America's Rust Belt
» Unions in right-to-work states make opting out nearly impossible
» Q&A: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
» Q&A: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence
Chapter 4: Forced unionism: The SEIU and Illinois home health care workers
» Illinois politicians forced home care workers into union that donates heavily to them
» Forced unionization turned Illinois homemaker into Supreme Court plaintiff in Harris v. Quinn case
Chapter 5: Employee Rights Act defines efforts to reinvent the union
» Big Labor turns left even as workers, lawmakers form new union models for the future
» James Sherk: Want to help workers? Reinvent the union
» Richard Berman: Employee Rights Act would make unions accountable to members
» Q&A: Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch
» Q&A: Georgia Rep. Tom Price

What he didn’t say was that eight teachers had filed suit with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission accusing the union of refusing to let them quit. They had reportedly failed to file their decisions to opt out during August, the only month the union accepted them.

“Funny [MEA] should make it August, since we are not in school at the time,” high school teacher and coach William “Ray” Arthur told the Washington Examiner. As a consequence, the teachers were stuck paying another year’s worth of dues.

In March, MEA backed down and dropped its objections to letting Arthur and Miriam Chanski quit. Another teacher dropped the case. The cases of five others remain unresolved.

The case highlights a notable problem with right-to-work laws: Administering them is essentially left up to the unions themselves — and they don’t make it easy for the workers.

Complaints similar to the one against MEA have been filed against the United Food and Commercial Workers and the Communications Workers of America in Indiana, which also adopted right-to-work legislation in 2012.

Still, the MEA’s 99 percent retention rate indicates most wanted to stay, right? Maybe not. In testimony before the MERC on March 10, MEA Executive Director Gretchen Dziadosz admitted that 8,000 people — about 5 percent of the union’s 112,000 active members — had not actually filed paperwork to have their dues automatically deducted from their paychecks. That suggests that far more than 1 percent wanted to get out.

Patrick Wright, director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, which is representing Arthur, Chanski and others, suspects that many other MEA members want to leave but were unaware of the August deadline until it was too late.

“We think a lot of people are gritting their teeth and waiting until next year,” Wright said.

The time frame is MEA’s own invention. It’s not in the state law. The union’s website does not make the information easy to find, either. Searches for “right to work” mainly turn up posts attacking the law.

“I feel they withheld the information of the August window on purpose,” Chanksi told a local television station after the complaint was filed.

When Arthur submitted his withdrawal notice late, he was informed that he not only owed another year’s worth of dues, but that the union would send a collection agency after him if he didn’t pay. He then phoned MEA to demand to know why he wasn’t informed of this beforehand. “They said they were not legally required to tell us about [it],” Arthur said.

Unions are quite unabashed about punishing would-be ex-members. In an email to the Washington Examiner last year, then-spokesman Doug Pratt explained: “MEA believes in the sanctity of contracts -- whether they are with a school district or an individual -- and the democratic process.”

In a Michigan Senate hearing in December, Pratt stated bluntly: “Why would any membership organization seek to tell someone how to get out?”

At least MEA members got one month to decide. Some union opt-out windows are as short as two weeks.

Kroger worker Julie Huffman found this out when she tried to resign in May 2012. Her union said she had filed at the wrong time. This forced her to pay for another year’s worth of dues. She tried again the following year and was again told she had missed the window — this time by just two days.

Liberal critics have long denounced voter ID laws as “voter suppression” tactics for simply requiring people to provide the same level of proof required for a gym membership.

Would any of those critics be willing to spare some similar outrage for tactics clearly designed to undermine state laws and deny individual rights — rights that the perpetrators have a financial motive to undermine?

View article comments Leave a comment

More from washingtonexaminer.com