News Story

MEA Says 1 Percent of Teachers Have Left Union, But Claim is Questionable

Union's estimate is missing some important context

Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook claims that 99 percent of his union’s membership chose to stay with their union after right-to-work legislation gave them the chance to leave. 

But Cook's boast leaves out some important context. For example, Cook estimated about 30 percent of the MEA members wouldn't have been eligible to opt out because their districts signed contracts before the right-to-work legislation took effect. Cook made the estimate on WKAR’s Off The Record.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy estimates at least 145 districts have contracts dodging the law.

Another reason Cook's claim is questionable is that some union members didn't know the only month the MEA allows its members to opt out is August and so they missed their limited opportunity.

Multiple teachers from across Michigan filed complaints Monday with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission against their local unions and the MEA challenging the August window as the only time to leave the union. The teachers are being represented by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation.

John Ellsworth, a teacher in the Grand Ledge School District and a member of the MEA who is not involved in the lawsuits, said he would not be surprised if only 1 percent exercised their right to leave.

"I think the MEA left it up to individual members to seek out how to properly leave the union, and I think many teachers were unaware that August was the only time the MEA allows members to officially drop off the rolls," Ellsworth said in an email.

A few teachers in Grand Ledge grumbled and said they won't pay their dues, Ellsworth said.

Cook said in a letter shortly after the right-to-work law passed that the MEA would use "any legal means at our disposal" to prevent teachers from leaving outside the August window.

"The membership application signed by every member indicates that if they wish to resign their membership, they must do so in August — and only August," Cook’s letter read. "We are sticking to that. Members who indicate they wish to resign in March, or whenever, will be told they can only do so in August. We will use any legal means at our disposal to collect the dues owed under signed membership forms from any members who withhold dues prior to terminating their membership in August the following fiscal year. Same goes for any current fee payers who choose not to pay their service fee."

Cook didn't respond to a request for comment. 

(Editor's note: This story has been slightly edited since its original posting.)

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.