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Policy: Labor

Conservatives want Michigan teachers to know they can dump their union in August

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Labor,Michigan,Right to work,Teachers Unions,Americans for Prosperity

Despite the fact that Michigan has adopted a right-to-work law that bars forced unionism, most teachers' union members cannot invoke the law for 11 months out of the year. That's because the Michigan Education Association has decided that it will only accept opt-out requests during August. The union doesn't put much effort behind alerting teachers to this, either.

The conservative nonprofit group Americans for Prosperity is of a different mind, though. It is running ads in the Detroit Free Press alerting Michigan educators to their rights under the law. The ads include a version of an opt-out form to send to the union.

"If you feel that the MEA doesn't represent your interests, clip, sign, and mail this letter certified," the ad reads. It is part of a broader effort by free-market groups to institute a "National Employee Freedom Week."

In most states, labor organizations typically insist that contracts with management include so-called "security clauses" requiring all employees to either become union members or pay the union regular fees — regardless of whether the workers want to join. In the 24 states with right-to-work laws, such clauses are prohibited. Michigan adopted a version last year.

Administration of right-to-work laws is typically left up to the unions themselves, though. They often make it as hard as possible for workers to invoke their rights. Things like only accepting opt-out applications for one month out of the year is a typical tactic.

MEA members cannot even submit their requests early and wait for them to be processed in August. If it is not postmarked and received during August — which just happens to be when most teachers go vacation — the union will reject it, and the teacher will be charged union fees for another year.

The union will even send collection agencies after non-paying teachers, threatening their credit ratings. In some cases, teachers did not even know their opt-out requests had been rejected until they heard from collection agencies.

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