Teachers unions need to respect teachers’ rights

By Greg McNeilly -- Chairman, Michigan Freedom Fund

School’s out, but while students and their families prepare for summer cookouts, trips to the beach or catch a little extra sleep, there’s a bullying epidemic unfolding in Michigan classrooms.

The Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, is waging a loud and devastating war against some of the state’s most dedicated educators, but thanks to a pair of recent rulings, their days of strong-arming its members may finally be numbered.

For the teachers who’ve found themselves in the union’s crosshairs, that’s welcome news indeed.

Following the 2013 enactment of Michigan’s right-to-work law, the MEA got to work denying teachers’ their rights under the law. The union began enforcing an August opt-out scheme, implementing rules demanding that teachers wishing to exercise their rights under Michigan law be illegally prohibited from leaving the union 11 months out of the year.

During the first two years right to work was on the books, the union lost thousands of members. A local union contracts expire, that number is only expected to grow. The August opt-out is designed to keep teachers locked into the union (and their dues checks flowing) whether they want to be or not.

When public school teachers spoke up or fought back, union bosses lashed out, refusing to honor teachers’ rights, and attempting to ruin their personal credit.

Dedicated teaching professionals from one corner of the state to the next have received notices from credit collection agencies informing them that the MEA has targeted their personal credit and future financial health as a reprisal for opting out of the union.

Jacqueline O’Neil, an educator in Port Huron, started getting hounded by creditors sent by the MEA to collect dues payments after opting out in 2013. Bangor Public Schools kindergarten teacher Kimberle Byrd got her first collection notice the following May.

Others like Carrie Adams, a paraprofessional at an elementary school in southwest Michigan, have been singled out and targeted for harassment locally over their decision to exercise their legal rights.

That the MEA is more interested in its own bottom line than in the rights of its members shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The union has a sordid history of putting its bosses’ finances above the best interests of its members. MEA president Steven Cook recently made statewide headlines for bilking taxpayers and Lansing public schools for a $105,000 annual pension through the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System, despite not working for the district for two decades.

Teachers haven’t taken these assaults on their freedoms lying down.

A number of educators have taken the MEA to court, and in the case of some educators, the union has already been forced to back down.

But the MEA’s illegal scheme may soon be coming to a more thorough end, after a unanimous ruling last week by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission that the August opt-out scheme doesn’t mesh with state law.

The commission’s decision came on the heels of a ruling last September by Administrative Law Judge Julia Stern, who declared that Michigan teachers have the freedom to choose whether or not to join a union 365 days of the year, not only in the month of August.

A written decision reflecting the commission’s action is expected as early as next month, putting the force of law behind Judge Stern’s ruling, and finally forcing the MEA to abide by it.

Michigan teachers’ rights and freedoms shouldn’t end when they enter our children’s classrooms and last week’s watershed ruling means they won’t. The commission deserves credit for doing the right thing when the union refused, picking teachers’ freedom and the rule of law over fattened union coffers.

Originally posted in The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/2015/06/18/mcneilly-unions-respect-teachers/28884299/

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