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Michigan Judge Calls Out Union Opt-Out Policy as Unfair to Teachers

My dad once told me a story about when he was a little kid, not much older than I am now. He saw one of the bigger kids on the school playground holding a few of the smaller kids’ lunch money hostage. This bully said he had taken their money for the privilege of being his friend, and that he might give the money back if they individually came to meet him right after school in the back alley.

Overhearing the bully’s explanation was my dad, who came into the scene, shouting, “Hey, that’s not fair! Just give their money back.” As the story is told, the bully turned to my dad with a clenched fist held up, and a mean look on his face: “Shut up, you little [doodyhead]!”

“If you don’t give them back their money, I’m going to tell the teacher,” my dad bravely continued.

The bully looked even angrier. “Brilliant idea,” he said sarcastically. “If the teacher finds out, we won’t be able to play ball out here anymore. Obviously, you just want to ruin recess for everyone.”

The story came to my mind yesterday when I heard about this story from Michigan:

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 right-to-work law that took effect last year.

The good people from the Mackinac Center have been telling teachers about their limited August opt-out opportunity. But the judge said that the teachers union isn’t being fair by letting educators in any time while making it hard for them to get out. Just like many local Colorado unions require exiting members to find an inconvenient time to go through a gauntlet of questions and paperwork. It can be worse than getting out of a cell phone contract!

Kudos to the Great Lakes State, though. As in Michigan, Colorado teachers have right-to-work protections. They can choose whether or not to join and pay fees to a union. Here, though, teachers in some districts already can opt out when they want. More complicated, though, is that in the many districts with a limited time to revoke membership, those opt-out periods are not consistent at all. They’re at lots of different times!

It gets even worse. In a few places, including both Pueblo area school districts, you have to write an opt-out letter every year even if you’ve never joined the union and never wanted to do so! If your letter misses the deadline, those teachers end up having the full amount of union dues taken out of their paycheck (including for political campaign purposes), but have no membership rights at all.

My Education Policy Center friends kindly spread the word about the deadline, posting a local highway billboard with the message: “Not fair for Pueblo teachers!” Covering the story, the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper included the reactions of local union leaders:

“The Independence Institute’s goal is to destroy public education and to make sure the system becomes totally charters,” said Suzanne Ethredge, PEA president.

Roxy Pignanelli, PCEA president, said the institute is “desperately trying to create unrest where they can.”

Point out that what union leaders are doing is unfair, and you get a reaction similar to what my dad received from that bully on the playground those many, many years ago. Except “going to tell the teacher” in this case may not solve the problem like it did in my dad’s situation.

That is, unless Colorado had a ruling like the one the Michigan judge made. Treat educators like responsible grown-ups. Let them make the membership choices they think work best for them. Don’t put crazy limits and obstacles in their way. That’s what I’d like to see; what about you?