Thirteen current and former public school employees declared victory Wednesday in a dispute in which they charged the Michigan Education Association with illegally demanding union dues.
At issue was whether the union could charge dues legally from members who chose to exercise their right to resign from the MEA after Michigan officially became a right-to-work (RTW) state in 2013.
The MEA, however, only offered a brief window of time during which members could resign their membership, a strategy found illegal in 2014 by the Michigan Employment Relations Committee.
Despite the legal setbacks rendered by the state’s RTW law and the MERC decision, the MEA continued to hound former members to pay their monthly dues, even threatening them with small claims court and collection agencies.
The settlement was announced Wednesday by the National Right to Work Foundation (NRTWF), a nonprofit organization that provided legal representation to Tammy Williams and Linda Gervais, two now-former employees of the Port Huron School District.
Gervais and Williams sued MEA in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. NRTWF argued on behalf of Gervais and Williams that the MEA’s demands for dues were in violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME. In that case, the court determined forcing public employees to pay fees to any union as a condition of employment violates the First Amendment.
NRTWF President Mark Mix noted in a statement that the two women represented by the organization “stood up for their rights under Michigan’s Right to Work law and the Janus decision, and now they have not only won, but have secured protection for several of their colleagues around The Wolverine State from these illegal dues demands.”
Mix added: “But the fight is far from over. The Foundation will proudly stand with American workers until none are compelled into union membership or paying union fees in order to work.”
In an email to The Center Square, Patrick Semmens, NRTWF vice president, wrote: “The Right to Work principle, protected by Michigan’s Right to Work law and by the Supreme Court’s Janus decision, is simple: workers can choose to join and pay dues to a union if they want, but can never be required to join or subsidize union activities against their will.
Semmens continued: “Unfortunately MEA union officials, like their so many union bosses across the country, have chosen greed and threats against rank-and-file workers rather than working to make union membership something more workers will voluntarily support.”
In a phone conversation with The Center Square, Tammy Williams was subdued. “I was on the executive board of the union,” she said. “I come from a strong union-supporting family, and I really believed in unions.”
Williams also noted she had been a member of the MEA for “19 or 20 years,” she said.
“I’m just glad there was a good outcome and other people got helped,” she said.