LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan's largest teachers' union should allow members to resign at any time and stop enforcing an annual one-month opt-out window, a state labor judge ruled, relying on the state's right-to-work law that took effect last year.
The administrative law judge, Julia Stern, recommended Tuesday that the Republican-controlled Employment Relations Commission order the Michigan Education Association to no longer limit school employees to leaving the union in August. She said the right-to-work law incorporated a federal law interpreted to give public employees the ability to leave their union anytime.
The state's largest public-sector union said Thursday that fewer than 5,000 of 110,000, or 5 percent, of active members opted out last month. Opponents countered that roughly 50,000 had no incentive to leave because they still have to pay fees for bargaining and other services — even if they decide not to belong and pay full dues — until their labor contracts lapse. The union said the 50,000 figure is high.
The legal decision and the union's decision to make public its latest membership figures followed an intense month of lobbying by organized labor and pro-business groups to persuade teachers to leave or stay, in the first real test of the law that no longer allows forced union fees as a condition of employment.
Lawyers on both sides learned of Stern's decision Wednesday night.
"Judge Stern's ruling goes along with our belief that teachers are professionals and not piggybanks for the MEA," said Patrick Wright, director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation.
Steven Cook, the union's president, said its members believe in the union and public education, and "no amount of outside rhetoric is going to dissuade them."
An appeal is planned, first with the commission — controlled 2-1 by Republicans — and then likely the state appeals court and ultimately the Michigan Supreme Court.
"We probably have a couple years more of this to go," Wright said.
The union's general counsel, Michael Shoudy, said the resignation process has been in place for more than 40 years.
"We remain hopeful that MERC will find the August window to be consistent with the law," he said.
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