News Story

Michigan’s Largest Teachers Union Has Lost 25 Percent of Its Members

MEA’s decline much greater than its ‘worst fears’ after right-to-work allowed teachers to leave

In a 2013 video, Steve Cook, then president of the Michigan Education Association, was asked what he expected for the union’s membership numbers under the right-to-work law just going into effect then.

Cook said he wouldn’t be surprised if his union lost no members.

When asked what his worst fear was about the new law he said, “Worst fear – thousands. That’s everybody’s worst fear.”

Right-to-work means employers cannot require employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment. Four years after this policy became law in Michigan, the MEA has lost 27,609 dues-paying members, according to the most recent union filings with the U.S. Labor Department, released this week.

The MEA has experienced steep membership declines each year since the law was enacted in 2012. Active membership is down 25 percent since right-to-work became law.

MEA Spokesman Doug Pratt didn’t reply to an email seeking comment.

The MEA has 87,628 active members in 2017, which includes 67,876 teachers and 19,752 education support personnel. This is down from 117,265 active members in 2012.

The decline in the number of teachers paying union dues is far larger than the modest drop in the total number of Michigan public school teachers, which has accompanied a decline in the number of public school students. Michigan has 95,001 public school teachers in 2017, compared to 98,006 in 2012.

The drop in dues-paying school employees is also steeper than a modest decline in the total number of full-time employees in Michigan public schools, including teachers, support personnel and administrators. Michigan public schools had 192,881 full-time positions in 2017, down from 196,965 in 2012.

Though Michigan’s right-to-work law was enacted in December 2012, it did not become effective until the end of March 2013. Even then, it did not apply to employees who were covered by a collective bargaining agreement until that contract expired. Before the law’s effective date, many local school boards went along with the union in signing long-term contracts that meant employees would have to keep paying dues — sometimes for another 10 years.

The contract extensions have been challenged in court and the Michigan Supreme Court recently upheld a Court of Appeals judgement that a 10-year extension is invalid. It is likely that the number of dues-paying MEA members would have fallen further without this device.

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.