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Teachers Union Unrest in Michigan

Posted By Tait Trussell On March 29, 2011 @ 12:15 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 29 Comments

Michigan’s teachers union leader recently threatened that the union is “squarely on the path to our own Wisconsin” — a signal for an ugly and illegal walk-out.

The Detroit News carried a column by Michigan Education Association President Iris Salters March 23 attacking what she called “devastating budget cuts” by new conservative Governor Rick Snyder.

The governor’s 2012 executive budget and 2013 projected budget, proposed in February, is intended to “lay a new, sound foundation for Michigan’s reinvention and put an end to the significant budget deficits the state has experience for the past decade.” The state was then under the rule of left-wing, union-embracing Democrat Governor Jennifer Granholm.

In education, the budget calls for “over $1.4 billion for special education students, as well as $1.2 billion in core education programs … protection of student financial aid, a ‘Pathway to Higher Education’ grant for needy students, and $670 million for workforce training. But it also cuts school money.

In a letter to teachers–a copy of which I obtained–union boss Salters calls for a membership meeting in April to vote to “initiate crisis activities up to and including job action (a synonym for strike).” Teachers have to be union members to teach in Michigan. An attachment to her letter says the union “will defend any member who is disciplined or discharged.”

The nation’s two huge teachers unions, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) embrace a combined membership of more than 4.5 million and pour out political contributions to liberal Democrats, the Wall Street Journal noted March 26 Their power lies in their ability to obstruct. Michigan’s union is affiliated with AFT.

Boss Salters wrote in her anxiety-laden Detroit News column: The budget reductions “translate into larger class sizes, fewer staff members and reduced programs. Schools will close, and districts will face financial ruin,” she ranted. Schools, she contended, will get “a minimum of $470 less per child.” She envisions a horror of students doing without “paper, pencils, textbooks and computers.”

Salters wildly pleaded that “the educational future of more than a million Michigan students must not be sacrificed. We will not stand silent while Michigan’s public schools and the middle class suffer more.” Suddenly, now it’s the entire middle class that’s in agony.

“Until now,” Salters theorized, “school employees have used the collective bargaining process to establish learning conditions for students as well as their working conditions.” How the bargaining process can help students learn would be about as difficult to prove as that CIO-AFL’s Richard Trumka favors right-to-work laws.

The bespectacled Ms. Salters joined about 1,000 union members protesting at the state Capitol March 20. This resulted in 14 arrests and at least one felony charge. Some protesters slept in cardboard boxes March 26, calling it a “Snyderville” demonstration in an imitation of “Hooverville,” the shanty towns built during the Great Depression.

Salters was quoted as saying the new state Senate’s emergency financial manager bill, which gave these managers the power to terminate union contracts, was “just like being in the slave days.”  Ms. Salters is black. Seemingly, the race card must be played at some point in such protests.

“It is an embarrassment to families everywhere to have a top union boss stoop to such uncivil levels, and it is insulting to those who suffered under slavery,” said Beth DeShone, the Great Lakes Education Project advocacy director.

The Livingston Daily Press in Michigan quoted State Rep. Bill Rogers, a Republican, as seeing the MEA’s possible call for a strike “unconscionable.” Rogers is chairman of the K-12 appropriations Committee. He added that “it smells like a strike to me.”

A bill has been approved by the Michigan House that would, when a contract has expired, suspend teacher step increases and require teachers to bear more of the cost of their health insurance.

In Salters’ letter to her union members, she complained that one bill in the state legislature “would destroy the collective bargaining rights of our members and the local control of democratically elected bodies in school districts, cities, and other local government entities that are in ‘financial crisis’.”

She griped that another bill “would mandate that school districts request bids to outsource all transportation, custodial and food service work, threatening the livelihoods of tens of thousands of dedicated education support professionals.

“Bills are being considered,” she warned her members, “to require all school employees to pay at least 20 percent of their health insurance premiums and slash your salary by 5 percent.”

Some professionals in other fields pay a higher percentage of their health insurance costs.

Under the Comstock, MI, public schools teachers union contract, as a contract example, the average teacher salary was $55,826 in February 2011. The district provides health benefits costing $14,724 for the most commonly selected plan, which is 42 percent more costly than insurance provided to the average private sector worker in the state. Teachers contribute a mere 2 percent toward their coverage. This compares with 20 percent average contribution required from private sector workers in Michigan, according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

An attachment to Salters’ letter labeled “Job Action Authorization,” the teachers were asked to support the proposed resolution of the union board. The attachment told the teachers they should be willing “to risk the loss of pay, and possibly, the loss of your employment.”

The attachment also said: “Your working conditions are those students’ learning conditions.” What a stretch.


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