News Story

Michigan’s Largest Teachers Union Got Nearly $500k From Collections Agencies

MEA has lost tens of thousands of members, is pursuing them by ‘any legal means’

When Michigan’s right-to-work law went into effect in 2013, the state’s largest teachers union said it would hold onto its dues-paying members “by any legal means.” The Michigan Education Association has held to that threat since then, though that has not spared it from experiencing a steep decline in membership as public school employees exercise their right to no longer pay union dues.

In 2019, the MEA collected $483,669 in unpaid dues through a collection agency, after having ramped up its collection efforts over the past three years. It collected just $15,772 in unpaid dues through collections in 2017. The figures were contained in the MEA’s annual report to the federal government.

In a 2013 memo, Steve Cook, the MEA’s president at the time, laid out how the union would deal with school employees who were in unionized workplaces but no longer wanted to pay dues to the union.

“We will use any legal means at our disposal to collect the dues owed under signed membership forms from any members who withhold dues ...” Cook wrote.

The primary tool for doing so was to enforce a narrow period of time called an opt-out window, each August, as the only time workers could stop paying dues. This restriction was backed up by threats to send collection agencies after those who tried to stop paying. In time, the threat against various school employees was carried out.

Under Michigan’s right-to-work law, employees in unionized workplaces are no longer under compulsion to pay dues as a condition of employment. In 2012, the year before the law was enacted, the MEA union had 117,265 active members. In its recent federal filings, the union reported it is down to 78,475 dues-payers in 2019.

The MEA didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. It has lost repeated lawsuits relating to illegal “windows” (time restrictions on when a person can stop being a member) and has a settlement agreement for many former members who were sent to collections.