Give Teachers Real Membership Choices Minus the Shame and Inconvenience

Michigan Capitol Confidential recently featured a story about teachers union leaders apparently intimidating several educators who opted out of membership after the state adopted its right-to-work law:

The MEA 17-B/C union newsletter listed the name of 16 employees from four school districts in the U.P. who decided against paying dues or fees to the union and it also listed the services they no longer will get now that they’re not part of the union.

Kathi Moreau, a counselor at Stephenson Area Public Schools, left the union and said she was shocked to see her name in the newsletter.

She said she opted out because of the cost and because she said she was never backed by her union — and never asked to be backed by the union.

“The fact that names were published in the newsletter confirmed the thought that some unions would throw their members under a bus at the blink of an eye,” Moreau said in an email. “Additionally, there was no reason for publishing our names and is nothing less than a cheap shot for opting out.”

I think the shamers should be ashamed for harassing K-12 employees who simply exercised a choice. But the behavior also may go a long way to explaining why that choice was made. Here in Colorado, we can’t recall seeing incidents quite like that. Teachers already have the right to join or not to join a union or professional organization.

But there are plenty of other real, albeit less public, forms of shame. In many cases, quitting your union membership dues can only happen during a brief window of time by making an inconvenient in-person trip and filling out extra paperwork. For a clearer picture, see Denver teacher Ronda Reinhardt’s story.

Interestingly, most union opt-out windows for 2013-14 already have come and gone. Denver’s is coming up the first two weeks of next month (November 1-15), while the revocation period for Adams 12 ends right before that on November 1. Durango also gives teachers the month of February. Various classified employees in Denver, Adams 12, Adams 14 still have their chance to quit union membership before waiting until next school year.

If an individual exercises free choice to find a different membership opportunity, why in the world should a group that’s supposed to be looking out for their best interest choose to (publicly or otherwise) put them to shame?