MEA ducks question about having state inform members about right-to-work law
The Michigan Education Association has an "if not asked, we don't tell" policy on letting its members know about the law that lets them leave the union.
And the union apparently doesn't want the state to let people know about their rights, either. When asked at a Senate hearing about having a state government department inform union members, an MEA spokesman started to answer and then changed the subject.
The Senate Compliance and Accountability Committee has been looking into allegations that the MEA is not fully complying with Michigan's right-to-work law. Under Michigan's law, employees can get out of a union without still being required to pay money to the union as a condition of employment. However, getting out of the MEA has proven to be a tricky proposition for many teachers across the state.
According to the MEA, its members can only leave the union in August by informing MEA officials in writing of their intention to leave. The August window — and how MEA members are supposed to find out about it — emerged as key issues in the Senate committee's investigation.
During the Dec. 4 hearing, Doug Pratt, the MEA's director of public affairs, repeatedly told the Senate panel that the union wasn't interested in voluntarily telling its members how to get out of the MEA.
"Why would any membership organization seek to tell someone how to get out?" Pratt said when Senators questioned him about the MEA informing its members about the August window.
At one point in the questioning, Sen. Arlan Meekhof, R- West Olive, asked Pratt if the MEA would oppose having a state department inform the union's members about the August window. In response, Pratt started to give a direct answer but then hesitated.
Sen. Meekhof rephrased the question, but rather than answer it, Pratt instead seemed to return to his theme of defending the MEA's August window.
The following is from a transcript of the exchange:
Sen. Meekhof: Would you be opposed to any other department in the state of informing members [of] that opportunity?
Pratt: I don't know if that is a responsibility that rests outside our organization.
Sen. Meekhof: Would you be opposed if someone from LARA (Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs) or another department give them that information?
Pratt: I believe the way PA 349 is written and the way it's been construed and talked about over the last year, is it is no longer a condition of employment to belong to a union or pay fees. That's different than an organizational contract — an agreement between two individuals — and I believe that is the reason the law states it is in the purview of [a] labor organization to set its own rules about membership.
Pratt: So in that sense . . . I'll get to the contract later.
With that response, Pratt never answered Sen. Meekhof's direct question.
MEA spokesperson Nancy Knight did not respond to a request for comment to clarify the union's position.