Does the MEA Believe in 'Sanctity of Contracts?'

Not when it comes to illegal teacher strikes

The Michigan Education Association has been accused of hiding from teachers how to leave the union and threatening their credit ratings if they don’t pay dues.

The union says teachers can only leave in the month of August and that this is in their bylaws.

On Wednesday, the union appeared before a Senate committee investigating the claims. The MEA has repeatedly claimed that all of its members should know about the "August Window" and that they agree when they come on as teachers that they can only drop the union during that month.

As Michigan Capitol Confidential noted: "[Doug] Pratt (a union spokesman) said the 'sanctity of contracts' was of the utmost importance to the MEA and that to be 'fair' the union had to abide by the contracts exactly as they are written."

Pratt's insistence about contracts was also stressed in an article last week in The Detroit News: "The MEA, at our core, believes in the sanctity of contracts," Pratt told Chad Livengood at The Detroit News, adding that that this "goes for contracts between the union and its members, too."

But the union is quite selective about the sanctity of contracts when it comes to getting its own way.

Consider: It is illegal for public sector workers to go on strike in Michigan, and nearly every teachers contract in the state has a provision between the union and the school board that a strike will not be called. But this has been repeatedly ignored.

While the most famous violation of this in recent years was the American Federation of Teachers repeatedly going on strike to protest contract offers and charter public schools, the MEA has done the same when convenient.

In December 2012, at least 26,000 students missed school because their teachers decided to skip school to protest the state's right-to-work law. Warren Consolidated Schools, the Taylor School District (which is an AFT district) and Fitzgerald Public Schools all were closed.

In 2011, 40 percent of West Bloomfield teachers at the high school went on strike (or, held a "sickout") to protest contract negotiations. Over the previous 11 years, the average teachers' compensation package had increased from $47,346 to $129,637 — a 173 percent jump — and the district wanted the employees to pay some of the costs of their health care.

Also in 2011, former MEA President Iris Salters said the union was considering a work stoppage in the wake of legislative actions. She said the work stoppage would "increase the pressure on our legislators." It was unanimously approved by the union's board.

To this day, the MEA has a manual on its website explaining how workers should strike. The 28-page document compares civil disobedience to Mahatma Gandhi and discusses how to use children as props to gain public support. The document says: "MEA Legal Services also supports and defends members who engage in a strike." When asked about the document Wednesday, Pratt told the Senate committee that he did not "recall that one in particular."

It is not surprising that the union will use "sanctity of contract" when that is the only possible argument that could justify its dubious practice of preventing members from exercising worker freedom, yet ignore it when it does not benefit them.

But nobody should be fooled that the MEA is standing on principle against the teachers trying to get out of paying them money to keep a job.