Teachers’ window for leaving union is closing quickly

The Detroit News Editorial Staff has made a newsworthy, little-known fact, public knowledge.  Despite a Right To Work law, teachers must still get around a “window period,” an attempt to make an end run around the law.

The month of August is coming to an end, and that means Michigan teachers who have decided to bow out of their union need to do so ASAP. Under the state’s new right-to-work law, teachers now have this option. Certainly their unions won’t remind them of that.

In December, Michigan became the 24th state to pass right to work. The law ensures that union membership cannot be a condition of employment, and it affects all private and most public sector employees. There won’t be a mad rush of teachers looking to leave their unions. Most are loyal members and many of them loudly protested when lawmakers were passing right to work. Plus, thousands of teachers are still working under contracts ratified before the law went into effect in March.

Several school districts passed or extended contracts this spring, including Taylor, where three teachers are suing, claiming the 10-year extension denies them the rights the law intended them to have. Teachers not covered by pre-right-to-work contracts have basically two days left to decide whether to move from paying full dues to what’s known as agency fees — a slightly lower amount that covers union protection but not the union’s external political actions.

Teachers can only opt out in August because of a stipulation in the Michigan Education Association’s bylaws. MEA President Steven Cook made that clear in a memo shortly after right to work passed. He said the union would use “any legal means at our disposal to collect dues owed” from teachers who try to leave the union before the August window.

The unions want to hold onto members in part because more members means more political clout. But not all teachers appreciate their dues going toward political causes, such as the MEA-funded recall of state Rep. Paul Scott, R-Flint, who had backed teacher tenure reform. The union spent $140,000 of its members’ dues on that campaign.