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Judge Rules MEA August Window Is Illegal Under Right to Work Statute

September 8, 2014

On September 2, 2014, three similar decisions were issued concurrently regarding the window period for opting out of union membership. In the lead case, Administrative Law Judge Julia Stern ruled that members of the Michigan Education Association (MEA) should be allowed to resign from the union at any time they choose. An MEA bylaw currently stipulates that its members may opt-out of the union only during the month of August. In this case, the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation filed an unfair labor practice charge against the MEA and its local affiliate, the Saginaw Education Association, on behalf of four Saginaw teachers who had unsuccessfully attempted to resign from the union outside of the August window period.

In her decision, Judge Stern agreed with the MEA that limiting membership resignations to August allowed the union to be more efficient with its planning and budgeting. However, she found the Michigan Legislature incorporated a provision of the National Labor Relations Act into its Right to Work statute and that provision prohibits restrictions on when union members may resign their membership. As such, Judge Stern ruled that the MEA August window is illegal under Michigan's Right to Work statute and that the union committed an unfair labor practice by prohibiting the teachers from resigning their union membership except during that window period. Judge Stern recommended that the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) order the MEA to "cease and desist from restraining and coercing employees in the exercise of their rights"; to accept the four teachers' resignations from the union; to amend the portion of its bylaw that claims members may only opt-out of the union during August; and to post notice that the MEA had committed an unfair labor practice.

Judge Stern's ruling comes on the heels of the Mackinac Center's media campaign to inform 60,000 MEA members of their right to leave the union during August. Although the MEA recently indicated that fewer than 5,000 of those members left the union during the past month, Judge Stern's ruling would allow MEA members to resign their membership at any time of the year. Since the MEA General Counsel indicated the union will appeal the decision by filing exceptions to MERC, however, Judge Stern's decision and order will not immediately be enforced. MERC will issue its own decision, which could be appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals and to the Michigan Supreme Court. As such, the effects of this case may not be felt for some time.

If you have questions about Michigan's Right to Work statute or the implications of Judge Stern's decision, please contact Eric Griggs at (616) 608-1147 or or your Clark Hill Education Law attorney.

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