An English teacher in the Reading Community Schools in Hillsdale County is unhappily paying $200 more to the Michigan Education Association and National Education Association than she expected to this year.

Corrie Caldwell has not been a member of either association for more than a year. She elected not to join the unions in 2006-2007 and instead filed paperwork to become a "fee-payer," someone who works in a bargaining unit represented by the MEA but who chooses not to join the union. Rather than union dues, fee-payers typically pay a reduced amount to cover certain services the union provides, such as collective bargaining and grievance procedures.

Caldwell said she filled out paperwork in December 2007 to renew her fee-payer status for 2007-2008, and mailed it through her school district, but the items missed the Jan. 3, 2008, postmark deadline. Her mailing was postmarked Jan. 4, Caldwell said, and she was told by the MEA that exceptions are not allowed.

Missing the deadline means that Caldwell now is paying about $620 to the MEA and $150 to the NEA in 2007-2008. Her reduced service fees would have been about $491 and $80, respectively.

"I am definitely interested in getting the word out so this doesn’t happen to others," Caldwell told Michigan Education Report. "It’s an expensive lesson."

According to association bylaws, the MEA membership year runs from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31. Teachers or other school district employees who want to terminate their membership must do so during the month of August for the following year, by submitting a signed letter of request to the association.

The union then provides what is called a Hudson Packet (named for a relevant court case), explaining how the service fee is calculated and an "election form" on which the employee affirms that he or she has chosen not to join the association. Employees also are allowed to challenge the amount of the fee and take the matter to a hearing. The employee must return the election form by a given deadline each year.

In general, unions may charge nonmembers a service fee proportional to the amount the union spends on services directly related to employment, such as collective bargaining, contract enforcement and grievance procedures. They may not charge fee-payers a share of the money spent on such things as new member recruitment, charitable donations, lobbying or ideological activities.

The MEA calculated that about 79 percent of its expenses were "chargeable" in 2006-2007. The NEA calculated that 54 percent of its expenditures were chargeable that year.

"I dislike what the MEA stands for, especially their huge salaries, and see little purpose in their representation," Caldwell said. A graduate of Hillsdale College, she currently is working on a master’s degree at Spring Arbor University.

There were 734 fee-payers in the MEA in 2006-2007, according to documents filed by the association with the U.S. Department of Labor, up from 685 the previous year.

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Lorie Shane is the managing editor of the Michigan Education Report, the Mackinac Center’s education policy journal. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that Michigan Education Report is properly cited.

“I am definitely interested in getting the word out so this doesn’t happen to others. It’s an expensive lesson.”

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