The High Cost of Quitting a Teachers’ Union

Andrew Buikema, a 10-year teacher with Grant Public Schools in Michigan, has found that the cost of quitting his state and national teachers' union comes at over $500. But he's prepared to absorb whatever cost he incurs, stating that it's a point of principle.

Whether a member or not, all teachers in the state are affected by their district's contract with the local teachers union, the Grant Education Association (GEA), as Michigan is not a "right to work" state.

The GEA is affiliated with the Michigan Education Association and the National Education Association.

Buikema has been trying to leave the union since last spring, says a press release by EAG.

"[H]e realized that GEA leaders were uninterested in helping the district control costs, even in the face of a multi-million dollar deficit."

It is thought that because of their unrelenting position on wage and benefit concessions, the union seemingly exasperated conditions that led to 27 teachers – including Buikema – receiving layoff notices.

"The district was also forced into making cuts to student academic and extracurricular programs."

Buikema told the EAG:

"They keep asking for more and more, even though the school district can't afford it.

"They're concerned about taking care of the adults and have no consideration for the kids. I don't want to be part of an organization that says one thing and does another."

However, Buikema estimated that the district could save between $530,000 and $980,000 a year if it switched from union-owned and operated MESSA health insurance to a less expensive carrier.

Buikema said he was "raked over the coals" by his local union leaders when he suggested it.

"The amount of flak I got, particularly from veteran teachers, was ridiculous to the point of being unprofessional," Buikema said.

The MEA and NEA responded to Buikema's resignation request by sending approximately 150 pages of documents, says the EAG release. The documents concluded that Buikema is free to quit both unions, but he must still pay them $544.28 in "service fees," which equals 67.7 percent of a normal union membership.

These "service fees" are based on "annual expenditures … incurred for the purpose of performing the duties of an exclusive representation of the employees," the documents said.

A 64-page document explains how the fees is allowed under current law, stating that it only pays for activities that don't involve an "ideological cause or political activity unrelated to collective bargaining, contract administration, grievance adjustment and lawfully chargeable employee representation."

Buikema says he is prepared to begin a long and complicated legal process to contest the "service fee" charges. Nevertheless, it will likely be an expensive and protracted case.

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