Judge says Michigan’s largest teachers’ union must let member leave any time

Sep 4, 2014

A Michigan labor judge says the state’s largest teachers’ union must let members leave at any time.

Union workers protest Michigan's right-to-work law.
Union workers protest Michigan's right-to-work law.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Education Association (MEA) only allows teachers to quit the union during a one-month period in August. But conservative groups say that is a violation of Michigan’s right-to-work law. They are applauding administrative law judge Julia Stern’s decision this week.

“Judge Stern’s decision is a great victory for worker freedom and further confirms that the MEA has been acting illegally and trying to skirt the right-to-work law,” said Vincent Vernuccio with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

“I think many more MEA members will be able to exercise their rights. They will be able to do it at any time of year. And, frankly, that is only fair when the law specifically states that a union cannot get a worker fired for not paying them.”

But the MEA says there is nothing in the law that specifically bans unions from limiting the period of time members can opt out.

“This is an opt-out period that we’ve had for 40 years. A year ago, 1,500 members managed to navigate their way through it,” said MEA president Steven Cook.

The union says fewer than 5,000 members left during the opt-out period last month. They say more than 95% of members have chosen to stay with the union.

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission must approve the ruling before it can be enforced. It is likely to be appealed further after that. Both the MEA and the Mackinac Center say the appeals process could take years.