Administrative Law Judge Julia C. Stern has ruled that under Michigan’s right-to-work law, public employees can resign from a union at any time of the year. On that basis, Judge Stern said that the state’s largest teacher union, the Michigan Education Association, has been violating the law by enforcing its so-called 'August window.'
“Freedom and the ability to exercise one’s rights do not come with a time limit,” said Patrick J. Wright, vice president for legal affairs at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “As we have said all along, the bylaws of a membership organization do not trump state statute. The MEA, unfortunately, chose to treat its members not as professionals but as piggy banks.”
The Judge's "notice to union members."
Under an internal rule the MEA would not accept a member’s resignation from the union unless it is submitted in writing during the month of August. This case holds that private bylaws do not override state law.
Judge Stern’s ruling came in a case in which a group of Saginaw Public Schools employees charged the MEA with unfair labor practices. The legal action, in which the employees were represented by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, was filed with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission on Oct 21, 2013. Stern presided over a hearing on the case on Feb. 27, 2014.
“I conclude that PERA (the Public Employee Relations Act) now gives employees the right to resign their union memberships at will, and makes it unlawful, under Section 10 (20) (a), for a union to restrict that right,” Judge Stern wrote in her decision, which was released late Wednesday. “I conclude, as I did in those cases, that Respondent [the MEA] violated Section 10 (20) (a) of PERA by maintaining and enforcing its August window period.”
Judge Stern wrote that she based her conclusion on language in Michigan’s new right-to-work statute, PA 349 of 2012, which passed the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder on Dec. 11, 2012.
She said that among the statutory changes effected by PA 349 was the “right to refrain” from union activities language, that had been part of the National Labor Relations Act since 1947. Therefore, according to Judge Stern, the law now explicitly gives employees the "right to refrain from any or all [union] activities."
In a portion of her decision title “Proposed Remedy,” Judge Stern wrote that she will recommend that MERC order MEA to cease and desist from enforcing the August window rule and either have it stricken from the union’s bylaws or amended.
The judge also ordered a "notice to union members" which states that the union committed unfair labor practices in violation of the law. Union members are to be notified that the union:
Will not restrain and coerce employees in the exercise of their rights.
Will not maintain or enforce a rule that prohibits members from resigning their union memberships except during the month of August.
Will not refuse to accept the resignations of the Saginaw teacher involved in this case.
Will remove the August window from union bylaws or note that it is unenforceable.
Will notify the Saginaw teachers that their resignations from the union (which happened outside of August) have been accepted.
The MEA asserts that the primary purpose of the August window period was to give it a stable membership count for the upcoming school year for budgeting and other administrative purposes. The union is expected to appeal Stern’s decision.
Jack Spencer writes for Michigan Capitol Confidential, from where this article is adapted.