2014-10-09 / Local News

Few teachers opt out of unions

A “right to work” law approved in Michigan appears to have had a very minor impact on teacher unions in Leelanau County.

Just three of the 143 educators employed by the four public school districts in the county have opted out of membership this year in their local chapters of the Michigan Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers.

All three are employed by Leland Public School. At least five teachers from Leelanau County have resigned from statewide teacher unions.

“Though another in a long line of legislation that attacks public education in Michigan, this latest ruling has no impact on our membership,” said Kat Murphy, president of the Leland Education Association (LEA).

Three of Leland 37 teachers opted out of the union in August. The educators also “acknowledged” they were not members-ingood standing last year, Murphy said.

Michigan’s Right-to-Work law, which went into effect in March 2013, makes it illegal to require payment to a union as a condition of employment. The law allows teachers and other unionized workers statewide to opt out of union organizations.

For decades the Michigan Education Association’s (MEA) bylaws said members could opt out only from Aug. 1-31.

However, administrative law judge Julia Stern ruled that the rightto work legislation “gave employees the right ... to resign their union membership at will and prohibited unions from restricting that right by rule or authority.”

At the north end of the peninsula, all 20 of the staff eligible for Northport Education Association (NEA), are signed up.

“We’ve had no changes with our local group but there were two members who opted not to continue as members of the MEA,” NEA president Steve Wetherbee said.

As a courtesy, teachers union dues with withheld from their pay and forwarded by school bookkeepers to the state organization.

That practice is discontinued.

“Once we had to start writing out own checks, some decided to opt out,” Wetherbee said. “It’s hundreds of dollars. Our local dues are less than $100 a year.”

Earlier this month, officials with the state teachers’ organization said that fewer than 5,000 of its 110,000 active members left the group during the August opt-out period.

“Despite a relentless campaign by outside forces determined to discredit and destroy the MEA, more than 95 percent of our members stayed,” MEA president Steve Cook said in a statement.

Membership remains strong at the county’s other two school districts which have 86 teachers between them.

None of the 34 members of the Suttons Bay Education Association (SBEA) have opted out this year.

“We are proud and fortunate that we have 100 percent participation,” said elementary school teacher Jane Grishaw, co-president of the SBEA. “The Right-to-Work law has not had an impact on our association.”

Neither has there been attrition at Glen Lake Community School as all 52 teachers eligible for membership in the Glen Lake Federation of Teachers are sticking with the organization.

“The Glen Lake Federation of Teachers has a 100 percent participation rate this year,” GLFT president Jennifer Gretzmacher said. “The laws have not impacted our membership.”

Local leaders at Glen Lake, Leland and Suttons Bay were not asked if members had opted out of the MEA but chose to remain members of their local unions.

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