Roscommon teachers leave MEA, saves tens of thousands of dollars, cuts dues in half and starts scholarship fund
By Jim Perialas
(Editor’s note: This commentary is an edited version of an Op-Ed that appeared in The Detroit News on March 7, 2013.)
With the recently passed legislation allowing Michigan employees to choose whether or not to join or pay money to a union, teachers are at a crossroads.
While a lot of my colleagues in the profession feel disenfranchised by the state's largest union, the Michigan Education Association, they are worried about striking out on their own. Most feel they have only two options: Stay with the group in the union; or leave the union individually.
But there is another choice.
Last year, Roscommon became the first teachers union in decades to decertify from the MEA and recertify as a local union — the Roscommon Teachers Association.
Forming a "local-only" union, away from the MEA/NEA, allowed Roscommon teachers to immediately cut our annual union dues from just under $1,000 per member to $600. With those dues, we purchase liability and litigation insurance privately and have hired our own attorney to replace the uniserv (grievance advice) functions of the MEA. Our union negotiates our contract with the district, which we have been doing on our own for years.
Why did we do this? Because the MEA is a bureaucratic behemoth with poor customer service.
The union paid its president over $280,000 in 2010 and $270,000 last year. In 2011-2012, while the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers were shedding members, both unions gave their national presidents raises: AFT President Randi Weingarten had her salary increase to $407,323 from $342,552, while NEA President Dennis Van Roekel's salary jumped to $362,644 from $298,387.
But education employees don't have to put up with it. Competition drives innovation and change. Moving to a local union has allowed Roscommon to cut our dues nearly in half while banking over $25,000 this year alone. Some of that money will be kept in a contingency fund and some will go to provide local scholarships for our graduating seniors.
The most attractive characteristic of the local-only union option is customer loyalty. We provide a value proposition for our members. I would guess that our local will lose a small percentage of our members as a result of the right-to-work law, but nowhere near what the MEA will lose in the various locals statewide.
Teachers have a difficult choice going forward. Some will choose to simply walk away from the union. Others will choose to continue to deal the best they can with the current system. But all should know they have the option of taking control of their own union by forming a local-only bargaining unit.
It's your choice. It's your union.
Jim Perialas is the President of the Roscommon Teachers Association.