Union drops its fight against Miriam Chanski and Ray Arthur, but others still locked in
Two Michigan teachers who filed unfair labor practice complaints against the Michigan Education Association have won their freedom from the union.
The MEA is no longer contesting complaints from Coopersville kindergarten teacher Miriam Chanski and hall of fame wrestling coach William "Ray" Arthur, said Patrick Wright, director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, which represents the teachers.
Last year, Chanski and Arthur, as well as a group of other teachers from across the state, asked the Mackinac Center to help them get out of their union. The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation filed complaints on their behalf with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, and the MEA recently gave up its fight against Chanski and Arthur. The cases involving the remaining teachers are still being considered by MERC.
"I am very happy with the outcome and the work that the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation and Patrick Wright did in bringing the proper attention to my case and in following through," Arthur said. "I'm grateful for his help and looking forward to getting the word out to other members who need help along the same lines."
At a hearing last week involving a group of Saginaw teachers who say they also have been bullied and intimidated by the union, Michigan Education Association Executive Director Gretchen Dziadosz said 8,000 of its 112,000 members are not paying dues. In November, Doug Pratt, the MEA's spokesman at the time, testified in front of the Senate Compliance and Accountability Committee and said that about 1,500 members had opted out of the union and no longer were paying dues.
"This is a step in the right direction, but with 8,000 people in jeopardy, clearly more work needs to be done," Wright said.
During the MERC hearing, the MEA presented a dues collection policy that said it will send a collection agency after teachers who have not paid their dues for 90 days or more. Dues and agency fees vary, but on average teachers pay between $900 and $1,000 to the MEA, the National Education Association and their local union.
Michigan's right-to-work law no longer allows unions to get employees fired for not paying dues or fees.
Chanski said she had notified the union of her intent to leave, but the request was ignored because the union said it did not fall within its one-month window in which teachers must resign. The MEA only allows teachers to leave in August and it does not actively inform its members of their right to leave. Chanski said her credit was threatened when she refused to pay dues.
Arthur, who is a gym teacher in Petoskey, said he also was never informed of the August window and threatened with having his credit ruined. He estimated he has paid the MEA more than $30,000 in dues over the course of his 34-year teaching career.
The MEA has agreed to return $303 Arthur said he paid in dues while his case was ongoing, Wright said.
"When right-to-work was passed, my local union and the MEA sent membership all sorts of info on how to make payments for dues. However, not one single iota of information was included about how to opt out of the union," Arthur said. "...It's buried in the bylaws of the union website if you happen to click the right tab."
The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation also is representing Susan Bank, a Novi teacher who wants out of the union and says her credit also was threatened. Her case was filed in Oakland County Circuit Court last week.
The MEA has not responded to a request for comment.
(Editor's note: This story has been updated since its original posting. Additional information and quotes from Ray Arthur have been added.)
Anne Schieber contributed to this report.