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Bills to restore teacher union bargaining rights sent to House floor

Kenny Eliason

A state House committee adopted bills Thursday to restore some teacher union bargaining power in contract negotiations as Michigan Democrats’ efforts continue to undo decades of GOP labor policies.

The four bills would reverse laws signed in 2011 by Republican Governor Rick Snyder over the protests of teacher unions. The laws made teacher placement and discipline policies, among other things, non-negotiable topics. Democrats and teacher unions say negotiations should determine what’s in a contract.

Representative Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) is a former teacher who now sits on the House Labor Committee. He said the 2011 laws made the bargaining one-sided which affected trust and morale.

“I have always been of the argument that collaboration rather than competition is what’s best for kids,” he said.

But Jennifer Smith with the Michigan Association of School Boards said some things should not be negotiated.

“If the safety of students is at risk, districts need to be able to act to remove the teacher or staff from the situation to protect students,” she said. “The district needs the discretion to act to avoid lengthy delays in the case of egregious situations to protect our students and the morale of rest of the staff.”

Smith also said school officials are often forced into making last-minute placement changes because teachers and other staff retire or accept new positions as the new academic year is about to begin.

Representative Dylan Wegela (D-Garden City) is also a former teacher and union leader. He said those issues belong on the bargaining table.

“Why is it that you don’t see this as something that educators and unions can negotiate together and find a procedure together?” he asked. “Because, right now, the system is administrators can just decide.”

Smith said school boards and administrators agree the law can be improved.

The bills were adopted on party-line votes and now go to the House floor.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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