Union demanded bank account information and threatened teacher's credit
Miriam Chanski teaches her kindergarten students to respect other people's rights.
Now the Coopersville school district teacher is becoming an example for her students.
Chanski wants to leave her union, the Coopersville Education Association, an affiliate of the Michigan Education Association. She wants out as part of the state's right-to-work law, but the union will not let her leave, and she says it threatened her credit rating if she doesn't pay dues. So now she's doing something about it.
She is one of a number of teachers from across Michigan who filed complaints with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission against their local unions and the MEA, challenging the one-month August window the union says is the only time they are allowed to leave. The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation is representing the educators in the unfair labor practice cases.
Chanski didn't give much thought to opting out of the MEA until this past spring when a union representative came into her classroom to get her credit card or bank account number to ensure that she paid her dues electronically.
"At that time, I did not feel comfortable giving either of those numbers," Chanski said. "That is very private information that I did not want on a piece of paper."
But that was the only option the union gave her. However, with the state's passage of a right-to-work law, she felt she had more options than before. After discussing it with people she trusted, she decided to opt out.
On her union dues form, Chanski wrote at the top that she was intending on dropping out. In July, she got a letter from the local Uniserv director.
"She informed me that they did in fact receive my e-dues form and noted that I was choosing to opt out of the union," Chanski said.
She called the Uniserv director and was told she was out. But she found it wasn't quite so simple.
During the second week of school, the president of the union at Chanski’s school went to her classroom before school and said she had gotten word that Chanski wished to opt out of the union. She asked if Chanski had sent in a separate letter to the MEA. Chanski said she was not aware of a separate letter she was supposed to send. The president told her that she had missed the August window to leave the union.
"I had no clue about the window," she said.
Patrick Wright, director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, said the August window is "a time period the union has kept hidden from its members."
"[T]he union says if you don't resign during this period we presume you meant to stay with us and therefore we were counting on you and should get your money for an entire year," Wright said.
Chanski said the MEA told her that if she didn't pay her union dues, it would send a collections agency after her and it would affect her credit rating.
"I am a 24-year-old woman," Chanski said. "Who knows what I'll be doing some day. [Maybe] buying a house someday. My credit is very personal to me and it’s something I take pride in."
Wright said that "no one should be able to trash your credit because of your personal beliefs."
"Freedom is not a one-month-a-year concept," he said.
When Chanski asked for her e-dues form back, the union could only produce a copy. On the copy is the shadow of the phrase, "doesn't want to belong to the union" whited out.
Chanski contacted the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation to file suit against the MEA on her behalf.
"I definitely think there was information withheld from us and I think withheld for the reason of keeping members," she said. "Keeping members against their will in … circumstances like my own."
MEA President Steve Cook sent a letter to local union presidents in January of this year in which he said the union will use "any legal means at our disposal" to combat those wanting to leave.
"Members who indicate they wish to resign membership in March, or whenever, will be told they can only do so in August," he wrote, adding that the union will pursue legal action against members who don't pay their fees.
The teachers filing suit:
- Miriam Chanski, a kindergarten teacher in Coopersville who is a member of the Coopersville Education Association;
- William "Ray" Arthur, a high school teacher in Petoskey who is a member of the Petoskey Education Association;
- Amy Breza, a paraeducator in the Clarkston School District working at Sashabaw Middle School and a member of the Clarkston Paraeducators Association wants to change her status to that of a fee payer;
- Matthew Knapp, an art teacher at Ruben Daniels Middle School and member of the Saginaw Education Association;
- Kurt Alliton, a technology teacher at the Thompson Middle School and member of the Saginaw Education Association;
- Susan Romska, a geometry teacher at Arthur Hill High School and member of the Saginaw Education Association;
- Jason Laporte, a social studies teacher at Arthur Hill High School and member of the Saginaw Education Association;
- Kathy Eady-Miskiewicz, an English teacher at Arthur Hill High School and a member of the Saginaw Education Association.
(Editor's note: This story has been slightly edited since its original posting.)