Another GOP vs. Teachers’ Union Battle Emerges, in Michigan

By Sean Cavanagh — October 10, 2011 2 min read
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Few states are as closely associated with unions as Michigan, the heart of the American auto industry and home a substantial amount of organized labor. Now, a Republican legislative proposal has set up a clash with a major teachers’ organization over the right of educators to work without having dues deducted for union fees.

A bill introduced by state Sen. Arlan Meekhof and other GOP lawmakers would forbid school districts from entering into contracts that require employees to pay union fees.

The language of the measure specifically pertains to schools, and to unions representing 50,000 or more members—meaning that, as written, it would appear to target one union in particular: the Michigan Education Association.

The union already objected to K-12 budget cuts approved by the Republican Gov. Rick Synder and GOP lawmakers this year, and it is suspicious of their recently unveiled legislative agenda for schools. Backers of those measures say they will expand public school choice and create more flexible delivery of educational services, but union officials believe the plan is aimed at encouraging more privatization.

The legislation affecting union dues bears some similarities to proposals introduced recently in some other states, including an Alabama law approved last year that blocked automatic payroll deductions from public employees to unions’ political arms. It also comes on the heels of major public feuds between Republican officeholders and teachers’ unions in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and other states.

Backers of the Michigan legislation—who call it the “right to teach” bill—say it’s unfair for educators, who may not agree with union agendas, to have to make the payments.

“Teachers are doing a public service,” said Bob DeVries, chief of staff for Sen. Meekhof, adding that a “large number” of educators have told lawmakers they don’t believe they should have to pay for performing that service.

The Michigan Education Association sees the issue differently.

“This isn’t about people being forced to join a union—the law already prevents that,” MEA President Steven Cook said in a statement. “What this bill actually does is allow for individuals to choose not to pay for services they receive under their collectively bargained contract. Instead of paying their fair share, they could ‘freeload,’ receiving the same representation and benefits as their colleagues while sticking others with the bill.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.