Message from President Steve Cook on impacts of right-to-work -- and how we're fighting back


MEA President

With the passage of so-called "right-to-work" legislation, many MEA members have been asking what this means for our union and for each of us as individuals.

As of its effective date on March 27, 2013, right-to-work -- or, as I call it, "Freedom to Freeload" -- makes it illegal to bargain into a contract an "agency shop" or "fair share" clause that requires employees within a bargaining unit to either join the union or pay a service fee that covers only the costs of negotiating and maintaining the contract.

It should be noted that, despite the contention that the right-to-work debate was about "forced unionization," it's always been illegal to require anyone to join a union. That's just one of many myths that Freedom to Freeload proponents pushed -- others included positive benefits to the economy and jobs (fair-minded economists say there are none), worker choice (we already make decisions based on democratic votes), and political accountability (dues dollars aren't used to make contributions to political candidates).

So if those are all myths, what does this law really do? Quite simply, it allows people to get something for nothing -- at your expense. Rather than paying their fair share for union representation, individuals can use right-to-work as their freedom to freeload.

Even if they are not members and do not pay a fee, our union is required to represent these freeloaders under the contract. They get the same salary and benefits we bargain. They get the protection of the grievance and arbitration processes. And while they don't get many of the other members-only benefits of belonging to the union (like voting rights, liability insurance, professional development opportunities, publications and discounts), they get the security of being covered by a union -- thanks to your money.

Right-to-work is very much like making it legal to decide that since a person didn't like the outcome of an election, he or she doesn't have to pay taxes. It's unstable, undemocratic, and un-American.

In other places where "Freedom to Freeload" has been enacted, the resulting division and damage within locals is clear. Those who are doing what's right and paying their fair share resent those who are freeloading. The freeloaders inevitably need help from the union and take advantage of an increasing amount of time. And the leaders and staff of the union spend more time tracking down dues from members than organizing members to take collective action for their mutual benefit.

In short, it's a mess that MEA members and their school districts don't need.

That's why between now and March 26, our goal is to settle, extend or modify contracts with school districts so that locals are protected from the law's negative impacts. So long as agreements are in place by then that include the agency shop clause, they are legal and remain in effect for the length of the agreement. Once negotiated, those agreements will come before local members and school boards for a vote.

Statewide, MEA and other unions are continuing to fight against "Freedom to Freeload" through legal and political means. At the same time, we need to protect ourselves at the local level. Our unity is the most important tool we have in standing up for ourselves, our students and our community -- we can't let the extreme politicians in Lansing who passed right-to-work in a lame-duck rush take that tool away from us.