News Story

No More Compelled Dues, Strident Politics, A 22 Percent Union Decline

Michigan branch of teachers union sports a progressive politics Facebook page

The American Federation of Teachers-Michigan is one of this state’s two large teachers unions. On the AFT-Michigan Facebook page, it has published a cover photo that takes sides on many of the political hot buttons that are polarizing the country.

The photo states, “In this union WE BELIEVE ...” followed by catch phrases associated with particular political viewpoints, including “Black Lives Matter,” “No Human Is Illegal,” “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” and “Science Is Real.”

For decades, many public sector unions have engaged politics on the side of the Democratic Party and taken politically liberal positions, even though their members were more diverse, politically. A 2017 poll found that nationwide, 41 percent of teachers identified as Democrats, 30 percent as independents and 27 percent as Republicans.

In Michigan, there has been significant decline in union membership since the state’s right-to-work law took effect in 2013. Under right-to-work, employees in unionized workplaces, including teachers, no longer have to pay unions as a condition of employment.

Since the state law went into effect, the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan has lost 22 percent of its dues-paying members.

But there is one local teachers union in Michigan that has avoided the kind of enrollment declines that AFT-Michigan and the Michigan Education Association have suffered.

The Roscommon Teachers Association discontinued its association with the statewide Michigan Education Association in 2012 and became independent. Currently, it has 59 dues-paying members out of a possible 65, according to the small union’s president, James Perialas. Some years, all school employees who were eligible for membership joined, and in 2015, all but one employee joined.

Perialas said that he thinks the vast majority of teachers stay with the union because the Roscommon Teachers Association stays away from politics.

The Roscommon Teachers Association doesn’t spend any money on politics or support political candidates. Perialas said that’s one reason why dues are $500 a year, or roughly half of what the MEA and National Education Association collects from its Michigan members.

Perialas said the union tells teachers that they can donate to any candidate they want, but the union won’t.

“That was a promise we made when we broke away that we would not spend money on politics, and we don’t,” Perialas said.

Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, public sector employees nationwide may not be compelled to pay union dues of fees.