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State's High Court Affirms Teachers can Leave their Union at Any Time, Strengthens Right-to-Work

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Frank T. Mamat
April 2018 Employment Labor & Benefits Law News E-Blast
April 3, 2018

By declining to hear 11 closely watched labor cases, the Michigan Supreme Court has made it clear that public employees such as teachers throughout the state can quit their union any time of the year — putting more emphasis on what Michigan’s Right-to-Work law means for public sector employees.

The Supreme Court’s March 21, 2018, order in Saginaw Educ. Ass’n v. Kathy Eady-Miskiewicz affirms decisions from both the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) that the Michigan Education Association (MEA) — the state’s largest teacher’s union — can’t enforce its “August Window” rule to accept resignations only during the month of August.

Doing so, according to a unanimous Court of Appeals panel in May 2017, would violate the Public Employment Relations Act, or what’s more commonly known as the Right-to-Work law, which says unions and employers can’t force “a public employee to ‘remain a member of a labor organization or bargaining representative or otherwise affiliate with or financially support a labor organization or bargaining representative.’”

Further, the Court of Appeals said in its published opinion (which consolidated 11 cases against the MEA and three school districts), the MEA’s restricting resignations to just August goes against giving employees more choices, which is what the Legislature intended with Right-to-Work:

“We hold that establishing a broad right to refrain from union affiliation is reasonably related to the legislatively identified public need for voluntary unionism.”

In addition, the Court of Appeals agreed with MERC that: “[M]erely joining or remaining a member of a union with a bylaw or constitutional provision purporting to limit the right to resign does not constitute a clear, explicit, and unmistakable waiver of the statutory right to refrain from union affiliation [and financial support].”

This decision comes at a crucial time. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected in June to decide Janus v. AFSCME, a union opt-out/agency-fee case that could give public sector employees across the country — including in 22 non-Right-to-Work states — the option to quit their unions at any time without continuing to pay union dues.

Further, the MEA’s membership has declined by a reported 35 percent since Right-to-Work took effect.

To reiterate, Michigan’s Right-to-Work prohibits an individual from being required, as a condition of obtaining or continuing employment, to:

  • Join or support a labor organization
  • Engage in, or refrain from, collective bargaining activities
  • Pay dues, fees, assessments or other charges or expenses of any kind or amount, or provide anything of value to a labor organization
  • Pay to any charitable organization or third party any amount in lieu of or equivalent to full or partial dues, fees, assessments or other charges or expenses required of members

This latest decision provides teachers who prefer not to be a part of a union the option to resign.

To learn more about Right-to-Work in the public and private sectors, and how it affects your business and its employees, contact any of our business and corporate or labor and employment attorneys. Frank T. Mamat may be contacted directly at 248-539-9919.