Teaching Profession

Michigan Teachers Can Leave the Union at Any Time, Not Just in August, Court Rules

By Madeline Will — March 26, 2018 2 min read
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Teachers in Michigan now have more than 31 days to opt out of their union—the state supreme court ruled that they can leave the union whenever they want, instead of only in August.

In 2013, Michigan became a right-to-work state, meaning that teachers no longer had to pay dues to the union as a condition of employment. (Before then, if a teacher decided not to become a member, he or she still had to pay “agency” or “fair-share” fees, since the teacher was still represented by the union’s collective bargaining. The fate of those fees, which are still in place in 22 states, is currently being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.)

Since then, about 25,500 people have left the Michigan Education Association and its dues revenue has declined by $16.4 million, according to the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, which represented several teachers in the case.

See also: Are Teachers’ Unions on the Brink of Demise?

Although MEA’s “August window” rule has been in place for decades, it only became a major issue when teachers no longer had to pay the union dues. The teachers who sued the union over the opt-out rule were “fighting to exercise their right to work,” as the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation put it.

The state supreme court ruling is another blow to the union. In a single paragraph, the court ruled that that an appeal was denied because the justices “are not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by this Court.” Last year, the Michigan Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the Michigan Employment Relations Commission’s ruling that a one-month window “constituted unfair labor practices.”

According to the Detroit Free Press, Doug Pratt, a spokeman for MEA, said the union has been complying with the commission’s ruling since it was issued in 2015.

This type of case could be seen more frequently if the U.S. Supreme Court rules against the unions in the agency-fee case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31. That case is to be decided by June, and experts assume the high court, which has a conservative majority, will rule against the unions.

Already, a case that is on hold pending a decision in Janus seeks to establish that teachers should have to affirmatively opt into the union rather than opt out. The case, Yohn v. California Teachers Association, argues that the union’s current opt-out rules are too burdensome—teachers have to repeatedly opt out every year, and the opt-out period is typically brief.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.