News Story

Independent Union Shows Unions Can Prosper Under Right-To-Work

Roscommon Teachers Association left the MEA and doesn't have to bully members to keep them

In 2012, teachers in the Roscommon area school district became the first in decades to "decertify" the Michigan Education Association — fire it — and start their own independent union.

Now, three years later, the president of the startup local, called the Roscommon Teachers Association, said 64 of 65 eligible teachers have voluntarily paid dues as of the recently completed school year. It probably didn't hurt that the union's $500 dues are about half the amount charged by the MEA, the state's largest teachers union.

“Roscommon teachers show that voluntary unionism can thrive if the union is proving its worth to it members,” said F. Vincent Vernuccio, the director of labor policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “If a union provides value it does not need to worry about its members opting out and not paying.”

According to Jim Perialas, president of the new local, the one nonpaying teacher signed papers indicating he wanted to be in the union but didn’t make all the payments.

The MEA continues to impose a one-month annual "window" on when members can stop paying dues and fees, despite a Michigan right-to-work law that lets workers quit the union any time of the year. Later this month the Michigan Employment Relations Commission is expected to put its administrative power behind Judge Julia C. Stern’s 2014 ruling that the MEA is breaking the law by only allowing school employees to stop paying during August.

The MEA lost an estimated 5,000 members during the August 2014 opt-out window. It has failed to inform many school employees that August is the only month it allows them to choose whether to pay annual dues or fees.

Perialas said negotiations have not gone easily with the two contracts the independent union has ratified so far. The first included a 7-percent salary cut, and the second had a salary freeze.

“It’s not because we were any less powerful,” Perialas said. “There are a lot of really tough negotiations going on around the state.”

Roscommon, like many districts, has experienced dwindling enrollment and the lower funding levels it triggers. Given that Roscommon has lost 385 students since 2011 — 25 percent of its enrollment — and thus a 43-percent decline in state funding (from $3.7 million to $2.1 million), it's unlikely the MEA could have bargained a better deal.

Roscommon Area Public Schools had estimated that total funding (not just the state share) would drop from $11.2 million in the 2013-14 school year to $10.3 million this past year, and that the district would end up $1.3 million in the red. The final amount won't be known until required audits are completed, probably in November.

The MEA didn't respond to an email seeking comment.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.