Union Foils Decertification in Michigan

Published April 1, 1999

An attempt to decertify the Michigan Education Association, undertaken by 55 MEA members in Branch County, Michigan, was foiled when MEA intimidation and interference caused the employees to fear for their jobs and vote to continue union representation by a margin of 30 to 16 last December 8. The decertification process began earlier that year, when the MEA employees contacted the Mackinac Center for Public Policy for assistance because of dissatisfaction over the level of representation they were receiving from the union.

For almost two months prior to the December 8 decertification vote, the union had at least three people in the Branch County district on a daily basis. In addition, Uniserv directors–professional staff from the national teachers union–were brought in from neighboring districts to infiltrate the decertification process. For example, these outside union officials attempted to attend informational meetings intended for employees only. Although asked to leave, they succeeded in disrupting the employee gatherings and intimidating the employees.

Among the tactics employed during MEA’s campaign against the decertification proposal were the following:

  • stating that eschewing union representation would prompt the employer to fire the employees;
  • distorting the magnitude of contract gains won by the union bargaining on the employees’ behalf;
  • telling employees that substantial gains were made during the latest round of bargaining when, in fact, no tentative agreements have been reached at the bargaining table;
  • misstating research to indicate there is improved performance of students in unionized districts;
  • mailing a notice that Robert Hunter, director of labor policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, declined to participate in an election-eve debate with an MEA official before Hunter even received the invitation.
  • confusing the representation issue in the minds of employees by making the Mackinac Center’s labor, education, and privatization policy positions the focal point of their campaign;
  • using a 1993 Mackinac Center essay to generate fear among employees that Mackinac was an interested party in the election and sought to dismantle the Headstart program by tricking employees into forfeiting their right to union representation.

MEA also interfered with and attempted to sabotage the decertification vote itself, by:

  • paying staff members to attend employee informational meetings;
  • challenging the method employees used to obtain employee names and addresses for mailing purposes;
  • renting a room located near the meeting site on December 7 (election eve), parking their vehicles where employees could see them when they attempted to enter the building;
  • advertising the MEA’s presence on site during the employees’ only meeting with Mackinac’s Hunter on December 7, and monitoring the meeting site hallway to keep a surveillance on employees attending the informational meeting.

The employees filed an election challenge with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, charging the union committed unfair labor practices through its surveillance and methods of intimidation. The challenge is scheduled to be heard in mid-April.

La Rae Munk is director of legal services for the Association of American Educators, a national professional association meeting the critical needs of America’s educators. AAE is located in Mission Viejo, California, with nine state affiliates across the country. It represents more than 20,000 teachers who are more concerned about our children’s right to a good education than they are with the furtherance of the interest of the unions. Munk can be reached at 800/704-7799.