EAST LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Education Association teachers union has a little known union membership rule to keep school employees in its fold in the wake of the state’s transition to right-to-work status.
The rule says MEA members can only resign in the month of August, period. MEA mouthpiece Doug Pratt repeatedly said the “August window” union bylaw has been in place for decades and it’s permitted by state law, even with right-to-work.
But Coopersville teacher Miriam Chanski and Petoskey teacher Ray Arthur filed unfair labor practice complaints with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC), with the assistance of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, because the union wouldn’t honor their requests to leave outside of the August window. The educators said the MEA never publicized the August resignation period, which is a time of year when teachers are not working, and many are vacationing with friends or families.
But now the MEA suddenly claims there are exceptions to the August rule, and announced that they are setting Chanski and Arthur free.
“After review, it was determined there were extenuating circumstances that interfered with resigning their membership with MEA during the month of August,” MEA spokeswoman Nancy Knight told the Detroit Free Press. “Therefore, the MEA decided resignation outside of August would be permitted for these two individuals.”
So, apparently, the MEA’s August window rule only applies to people the union says it applies to. The MEA, of course, maintains that the rule remains in effect despite the settlement reached with Chanski and Arthur.
That means other teachers like Susan Bank who are also arguing the MEA didn’t inform them of the August rule must continue their legal fight to leave the union. The MEA’s decision to settle with Chanski and Arthur prevents MERC from using their cases as precedents, and that’s probably why the union let them go without more of a fight.
“I’m very thankful that the MEA has finally acknowledged it was my right to opt out,” Chanski told the Free Press. “But my case settlement does not bring justice to all those who deserve it.”
Instead, it allows the MEA to maintain control over its members despite Michigan laws clearly designed to give those members freedom to leave their union without entanglements.