MEA Drops Attempt to Stop Vote on Decertification

Grand Rapids Community College workers move forward with re-evaluating the union

The Michigan Education Association has dropped an unfair labor practices complaint against Grand Rapids Community College, and also dropped its request for suspension of an election to “decertify” a union local which represents college secretaries.

The decertification vote was authorized when one-third of the nearly 100 members of the Grand Rapids Community College Education Support Professionals signed a petition requesting it. The MEA filed its complaint and request a few weeks later.

Supporters of the election say time was of the essence because the local bargaining unit’s contract expires June 30 and contract negotiations are set to begin April 1. They want to determine if the MEA is still a good fit for their workplace, or whether the employees would be better off forming their own independent union. Members complained that under the MEA they were paying more and getting less.

A union member speaking on behalf of the MEA says the union dropped the complaint because it didn’t want the local to miss a crucial deadline for negotiating a new contract. She also cited new concerns that the college may eliminate some positions.

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“The reason we agreed for [the] MEA to withdraw the petition was the anticipation of a long, drawn out appeal process,” Debra Stout said. “Our contract expires on June 30, 2015 and we would not be able to negotiate until the unfair labor practice was settled.”

Supporters of union decertification aren’t convinced that this is why the MEA filed the complaint.

“We would have had the election and months of lead time to prepare for negotiations for our new contract ... no matter who the (union) representative was,” said election supporter and union member Penni Weninger. “But [the] MEA, whom we pay to represent us, objected to the election, filed the unfair labor practices complaint against the college for answering our questions, stalled and created divides in our membership, while continuing to collect dues for seven months.”

In its complaint filing, the MEA claimed the college “engaged in unlawful assistance to a rival independent union.” It is not clear if the MEA filed the charge with the full support of the union local's board. A hearing before an administrative law judge was scheduled for Feb. 5 and 6, but on Feb. 4 Judge Travis Calderwood canceled the hearing.

Election supporters are hopeful a decertification election will be held in the next month. Given the MEA’s interest in trying to suspend the vote, workers who want to replace the union say they plan to ask the Michigan Employment Relations Commission to oversee an election held on campus, rather than one with mail-in ballots.

“A MERC election officer will begin working with the parties when the date and manner of the election will be discussed. We anticipate that this will be a consent election – whereby all the terms surrounding the election will be mutually agreed upon,” said MERC spokesperson, Jason Moon. He did not answer a question asking if MERC would set a deadline to forestall MEA delay tactics.

If it goes forward this would be the second attempt by a union local in higher education to decertify the MEA. Last year, some 300 clerical, office and technical workers at Grand Valley State University voted to decertify the MEA and form their own union. The replacement union successfully negotiated a new contract for its members last year.

“GRCC is pleased that it will not be required to expend public dollars in a ULP (unfair labor practices) hearing and that the election can move forward,” said Leah Nixon, director of communications for Grand Rapids Community College. “The college will comply with labor law and remain neutral in the upcoming election proceedings.”

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