In case brought by DeWitt school employee, MEA union ordered to stop illegal “window” policy blocking employees from ending dues payments
DeWitt, Michigan (May 10, 2019) – The Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) has ruled in favor of a DeWitt public school employee and ordered the Michigan Education Association (MEA) teacher union and its local affiliate the DeWitt Educational Support Personnel Association (DESPA) to stop enforcing an illegal policy blocking workers from exercising their rights under Michigan’s Right to Work law.
The ruling is a victory for DeWitt Public Schools employee Kimberly Stepanski, who filed the case with free legal representation by National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys after MEA and DESPA rejected her attempts to cut off union dues, using a union-created “window period” policy.
According to the ruling, the union-created “window period” scheme – which is designed to limit workers from stopping dues payments except for a brief, union-selected time period – violates Michigan’s Right to Work law. The ruling also requires MEA union officials to refund to Stepanski any dues money collected since her initial resignation and requires the union to notify other employees that the “window” policy is illegal.
Stepanski first learned of the union scheme after attempting to resign and cut off dues payments in November 2013, only to be told that she was forced to pay dues because she missed the union’s designated “window period.” Stepanski, who says she had never been informed of the union’s policy, later sent a series of emails to the union officials reaffirming her intent to exercise her right not be a union member and to not fund any union activities, as protected by Michigan’s Right to Work law for public employees.
The law, which doesn’t stop workers from voluntarily joining or paying dues to a union, forbids compelling “any public employee to…become or remain a member of a labor organization…or otherwise affiliate with or financially support a labor organization.” Despite that, MEA union officials rebuffed Stepanski’s requests, demanding that she continue paying dues because she had not submitted her resignation request during the “opt-out window.”
Stepanski, with free legal aid from the National Right to Work Foundation, then filed a charge at MERC in 2014 challenging the coercive scheme. In the ruling issued last week, MERC determined that MEA and DESPA had illegally “reject[ed] [Stepanski’s] revocation of her financial obligation and restrict[ed] her right to resign her membership at will.” It ordered the unions to end the “window period” scheme, stop collecting dues or fees from any employee after he or she has resigned union membership, and refund to Stepanski any dues that they had illegally taken since her November 2013 resignation.
The order is another recognition of the ruling in Saginaw, a 2015 Foundation-won case where MERC first found “window period” schemes to violate Michigan’s Right to Work law. That case and others brought by Foundation staff attorneys have resulted in numerous refunds for money taken under the illegal “window period” scheme.
“Even after National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys have filed more than 100 cases against unions for forced unionism abuses since Michigan passed its Right to Work law, union bosses continue to systematically violate the rights of the very workers they claim to represent,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Hopefully, rather than continue to fight to trap the rank-and-file into forced dues payments, Michigan union officials will finally accept that Right to Work is the law, and refocus their efforts on actually convincing Wolverine State workers to voluntarily choose union activities.”
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, assists thousands of employees in more than 250 cases nationwide per year.