Teachers can now opt out of unions

MICHIGAN (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - It's the end of the summer vacation and all schools will be back in session next week.

While there are some schedule changes for students in classes, there's a big change for teachers heading back to work.

For the first time they're allowed to opt out of the teachers union.

It's estimated 1% or roughly 1,500 have already opted out and there are just a few days left in that deadline.

In the past two years republican-controlled legislatures in Michigan and Indiana have passed laws making union membership and dues voluntary.

This could have a huge impact on teachers in the state.

The Michigan Education Association is the first major union to have their opt-out time come up. Teachers looking to leave the union have to have their paperwork post marked by Sunday.

During the early opt-out time last August, which was not publicized, about 1,500 of the 112,000 members left. More are expected to withdraw this month.

The MEA is the state's largest public-sector union. Representatives for the union say if a large number of teachers leave they risk losing their clout in how schools are operated.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy created a website to help teachers understand the risks and gains of leaving the union, even interviewing those who have left who say it's been beneficial to them.

"Some people ask if when I left the union I lost anything and I really haven't. I have the same benefits, the same protections, the same in every concept. The contract I signed is between myself and the school district, not with the union," said Hopkins Public Schools Teacher Rob Wiersema.

"I felt like the money that I was spending on the MEA was going to political causes that supported things that I find to be morally objective," said Forrest Hills Teacher Bob Penning.

The MEA says if a large number of teachers leave the union this month there could be a lot at stake for all teachers.

In Wisconsin, where similar laws were passed in 2011, one third of teachers dropped their union memberships. But in Alabama, which also passed right to work, 80-percent of teachers voluntarily belong to the union.

Here in Michigan other major unions that are covered by multi-year contracts won't reach their opt-out point until 2015 or later.

Newschannel 3 contacted the MEA for comment on this story and it did not reply.

We will keep you updated as the numbers come in.