Corporatism, Education, Labor, Michigan Republicans, Teachers — November 12, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Michigan GOP forms special committee to continue attacks on teachers


Michigan Republicans are starting look desperate and obsessed and controlled by the Mackinac Center

It’s no secret that Michigan Republicans are hellbent on destroying unions. Teachers unions seem to be their prime targets, likely because teachers are particularly vulnerable because they are focused on educating our kids, not on political action and activism.

When Republicans rammed right to work (for less) legislation through the legislature and into law without hearings or public input in 2012, only the most anti-union types claimed it was anything less than an effort to kneecap unions and reduce their power. Using the euphemism “Freedom to Work” did nothing to mask their true intent.

Now that the law is on the books, Republicans have opened a new front in their War on Teachers. A tiny fraction of teachers in the Michigan Education Association (MEA) couldn’t be bothered to follow the rules about leaving the union during the month of August, a rule that’s been on the books for 40 years. Although this was an option open to them this year, they ignored it and are now claiming they’re being prevented from leaving the union, as if union leaders are somehow holding them hostage. It’s a preposterous suggestion but, with the help of the anti-union corporatist group, the Mackinac Center, they are trying to convince everyone that this is someone else’s fault rather than taking personal responsibility for missing the deadline themselves. The Mackinac Center has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the “at least seven” teachers (out of the 150,000 members in the union.)

Not content to let the courts sort it out, Michigan Senate Republicans have formed the Senate Compliance and Accountability committee which is tasked to investigate the situation. Predictably, the committee is composed of three-quarters Republicans with Senator Hoon-Yung Hoopgood added as the token Democrat.

At a press conferene announcing the committee’s formation, committee vice-chair Jack Brandenburg was quizzed as to why these “at least seven” teachers couldn’t be bothered to follow the 40-year old rule (what he calls “a ploy”). His response was, “What the MEA and other unions may have done before the passage of the Freedom to Work law is no longer in force.” Sen. Brandenburg seems to be implying that teachers and their unions are no longer permitted to set their own rules within the context of the new law. Although the law doesn’t mention anything about requiring unions to allow members to cancel their contract with the union at any time, that is what Republicans suggest is this case.

Committee chair Arlan Meekof was asked by reporters what the committee would do that the court case would not. He gave a meaningless response that, “That would be borne out in committee. First, we’d have to hear the testimony.”

MEA spokesperson Doug Pratt put it this way:

Pratt said he doesn’t understand why there needs to be a special committee when there is legal action pending in another venue.

“I just don’t know how the legal process will interact with the committee,” he said. “The main thing to keep in mind is that the vast, vast majority have chosen to stay with their union because we’re out there fighting for public education and making sure their voices get heard.”

As Pratt points out, only 1% of their members declined to renew their membership by following the rule established in 1973.

The formation of this committee is clearly nothing more than a new attempt to bully teachers. Taking a page out of the Karl Rove playbook, Republicans are accusing their victims of being bullies when they themselves are the culprits.

At this point, it might be best just to let these anti-union MEA members go. They represent such a tiny fraction of the overall union membership that their antagonistic presence is just a distraction from the MEA’s excellent work protecting teachers and students and ensuring that our public schools are the best that they can be.

As they did with Teacher of the Year Gary Abud, Jr., the Mackinac Center is simply exploiting a small group of teachers to promote their own corporatist, anti-union agenda. They won’t rest until public schools are eliminated and the job of educating our kids is turned over to for-profit corporations who siphon off tax dollars into their corporate bank accounts.

The only thing that will stop them is to return control of our legislature to Democrats who care about public schools and the rights of our workers, teachers included, to bargain collectively for decent wages, benefits, and classroom conditions that foster a healthy learning environment for our kids. If you’re not already engaged with making sure that happens in 2014, the time is NOW to get involved.