Policy: Labor

Michigan teachers claim union is obstructing right-to-work law

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Beltway Confidential,Education,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Labor,Analysis,Michigan,Right to work

Michigan teacher Ray Arthur told the Washington Examiner that is is "easier to get on Obamacare than it is get out of" his union.

Arthur is one of eight public school teachers suing the Michigan Education Association for unfair labor practices. They claim that the union deliberately obstructed members who tried to take advantage of the state's new right-to-work law.

Arthur told the Examiner that he complained that the union never told him when he was allowed to drop his membership in the organization, as the new law permits all union workers to do.

As a consequence, he missed the filing period and now owes the union another year's worth of dues, which is more than $1,300.

Right-to-work laws prohibit workers from being forced to join a union or pay dues to one as a condition of employment. Prior to the law's passage, all Michigan teachers had to belong to MEA.

Michigan labor leaders fought bitterly against the state becoming the nation's 24th with a right-to-work law.

Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook claimed in an Oct. 8 statement that the vast majority of members were ignoring the right-to-work law.

"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 said.

Arthur, who has taught for 35 years, scoffed at Cook's claim. "I was part of that 99 percent," he said. He guessed that many colleagues had a similar experience.

He sent the union a certified letter on Sept. 16 stating that he wanted to drop out but never got a response. It was only later he learned he could only opt out between Aug. 1 and Aug. 31.

"They only tell you about the window if you inquire," Arthur said. "They said they were not legally required to tell us about the opt-out window." That surprised him because he says he is otherwise inundated with dues-related information from MEA.

Nor is it clear why the window is only a month, he noted, since nothing in the version of the law Michigan adopted specified that. The time period MEA picked was suspicious too.

"Funny they should make it August, since we are not in school at the time," Arthur said.

MEA even threatened to turn him over to a collection agency if he didn't pay.

The irony is that Arthur never had a grievance against the union before the right-to-work campaign. He wanted to drop out only because he is retiring and sees no further need to be in a union. "I would still tell young teachers to join," he said.

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