Saginaw teacher: 'It's a matter of principle and doing what's right'
When the right-to-work legislation passed in December, Saginaw Arthur Hill High School teacher Jason LaPorte said he received numerous emails explaining how to pay his union dues electronically.
But the social studies teacher said he didn't get anything about how to leave the union when it became possible.
"I do feel taken advantage of," LaPorte said. "I think once right-to-work legislation passed, the union should have been more informative with the procedures of all union functions going forward that were affected by right-to-work."
The Michigan Education Association only allows its members to leave in August, but LaPorte and other teachers said they were not informed of that policy. He said union officials defended their actions when asked why members were not informed.
LaPorte kept an email from a union official that read: "I do not know of any membership organizations that tell people how to resign their membership."
Saginaw Education Association President Leann Bauer and Michigan Education Association UniServ Director for Saginaw Sue Rutherford didn't respond to requests for comment.
LaPorte is one of seven teachers who filed unfair labor complaints with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission against their local unions and the MEA. The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation is representing the teachers.
LaPorte said some teachers received a phone call, email or personal letter asking why they were opting out.
"No one should feel guilted into explaining why they are exercising any right they have," he said. "Not one single person owes anybody an explanation. Everyone's situation is different whether it's financial, personal beliefs, or whatever. … It's not a matter of being in favor or opposing unions or making a political statement. It's a matter of principle and doing what's right.
"I'm not here to make an anti-union statement because that's not the case," he said.
The MEA's strategy of keeping teachers in the dark about the August opt out window will have repercussions because a lot of members have a bad taste in their mouth over it, he said.
"I've had teachers contact me who have been teaching for 25 years and knew nothing of the window and they were asking me questions," LaPorte said. "Some teachers told me that they will bite the bullet this year and pay, then opt out next year. I think some people who haven't paid yet are playing the waiting game to see how this plays itself out. …If things continue to be handled the way they are, they will lose membership. And right now, by hook or by crook, they're going to get some people, but in the long run they will lose membership based on how they’re handling things."
The teachers involved in the lawsuit against their unions include:
- 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;
- 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.
A video report about Jason and the teachers in Saginaw suing the union:
(Editor's note: This story has been slightly edited since its original posting.)