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Union Tries to Shame Ex-Members

MEA affiliate lists the names of school employees who chose to leave the union

A Michigan Education Association union in the Upper Peninsula has listed the names of the school employees who left the union as part of the state's right-to-work law, leaving some to question whether the MEA is trying to create a hostile workplace environment.

The MEA 17-B/C union newsletter listed the name of 16 employees from four school districts in the U.P. who decided against paying dues or fees to the union and it also listed the services they no longer will get now that they're not part of the union.

Kathi Moreau, a counselor at Stephenson Area Public Schools, left the union and said she was shocked to see her name in the newsletter.

She said she opted out because of the cost and because she said she was never backed by her union — and never asked to be backed by the union.

"The fact that names were published in the newsletter confirmed the thought that some unions would throw their members under a bus at the blink of an eye," Moreau said in an email. "Additionally, there was no reason for publishing our names and is nothing less than a cheap shot for opting out."

James Perialas, president of the Roscommon Teachers Association, an independent union that voted to decertify from the MEA last year, said this was "an example of passive bullying."

"You would think that a professional teacher organization would not participate in this type of behavior," Perialas said. "These teachers were exercising their rights, and publishing their names implies that the readers should treat them differently in a negative way. Rather than ask them how they can win them back, they use bullying."

Wendy Day, a former Howell School Board Trustee who is running for state representative, agreed. "Holy cow, for all the anti-bullying efforts in our schools these days, this is shameful," she said.

Day said posting the names was akin to social bullying in schools because it was done to hurt reputations or relationships. There is a culture in the union to bully people who disagree with them, including school boards, business owners and teachers, Day said.

MEA President Steve Cook has repeatedly referred to employees who opt out of the MEA as "freeloaders." 

The MEA spends the majority of dues money on the salaries and benefits of its centralized employees. According to its most recent federal filings, the union spends only 11 percent on "representational activities."

Cook and Jody Lynn Jaeger, 17 B/C UniServ Field Assistant, didn't respond to requests for comment.

State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said the targeted employees should have expected the union would publically list their names.

"I don't know if they are naming them as a traitor; I would expect that sort of activity to happen," Sen. Jones said. "It's not violent. If they did something illegal, something violent like damaging their car, that would be very inappropriate and should be punished. Just naming the people to the other members, I'm sure they all expected that to happen."

Joan Fabiano, founder of Grassroots in Michigan, said there was no need to list the union members who opted out.

"The obvious conclusion is to shame or do a bullying tactic or to put the fear of God in anyone else who might dare to exercise their freedom to choose," Fabiano said.

School administrators from the Menominee and Dickinson Iron school districts, which had 13 of the 16 targeted employees, didn't respond to requests for comment.

(Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional information from teachers since its original posting.)

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See also:

Know Your Rights: MI Worker Freedom

Who's the Freeloader? MEA Spends More On Benefits Than Bargaining

August Is 'Get Out of the Union Month' For Teachers

The Union 'Free Rider Problem' Myth In Right-to-Work Debate

Union Will Use 'Any Legal Means' To Combat Members Who Want To Leave

Count Update: 145 School Districts Have Deals That Dodge Right-to-Work

MEA President Goes After Local Teachers' Union President

MEA Memo Outlines Regrets and Possible Ways To Fight Right-to-Work Law