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Conservative Group Expands Push to Get Teachers to Leave Their Unions

A conservative, free-market nonprofit group that has encouraged teachers to consider dropping their union membership is expanding its outreach strategy, partnering with think tanks in California and four other states to target more public employees across the country.

The Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy launched its national "My Pay, My Say" campaign after the Supreme Court handed down its decision earlier this year in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31, which prevented public-employee unions from collecting fees from non-members.

Through the outreach project, the Mackinac Center sent emails to teachers and other public employees in the weeks after the decision, explaining that they would no longer have to pay "agency" fees if they ended their union memberships. Messages also included links to state-specific opt-out forms.

Today, the organization announced a partnership with the California Policy Center, a right-wing think tank, to coordinate outreach efforts in that state.

California was an area of particular interest because it has the largest number of public employees in the country, "which includes quite a few teachers," said Lindsay Killen, the Mackinac Center's vice president for strategic outreach and communications. (The California Teachers Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association, reports 350,000 members.)

When policies around opt-out and union membership vary state by state, consulting with local organizations helps the Mackinac Center stay abreast of "dynamics on the ground" and deliver relevant information to public employees, said Killen. In a statement, the Mackinac Center said that thousands of Californians have reached out to My Pay, My Say. 

Union leaders have spoken out in fierce opposition to campaigns like My Pay, My Say. In an interview with my colleague Madeline Will after the Janus decision, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said the national organization would put money toward helping state affiliates "fight" targeted anti-union messages.

Meanwhile, the Mackinac Center is scaling up its efforts beyond California. The partnership with the California Policy Center is just one of several state-focused outreach initiatives.

The organization is also working with other conservative think tanks and advocacy groups, including the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, the AFP Foundation in New Jersey, the Pioneer Institute in Massachusetts, and the James Madison Institute in Florida.

In the coming months, the Mackinac Center plans to announce partnerships with groups in five more states to develop locally focused resources, said Killen.

Whether members choose to stick with their unions or not, they are entitled to transparent, locally-relevant information, she said.

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