Sunday, February 6, 2011


What is the relationship between strikes and teachers salaries and working conditions? Well, according to William Boyd, David Plank, and Gary Sykes, it is a pretty direct link:

 In the 1970s and 1980s, teachers’ unions in Michigan and Pennsylvania were among
the most powerful in the United States. They won rapid and substantial gains for their members,
in large part because of their readiness to send teachers out on strike, and they played a
dominant role in school politics and state politics more generally. With the election of activist
Republican Governors in both Michigan and Pennsylvania in the 1990s, however, the power of
the teachers’ unions began a precipitous decline. They now find themselves in an extremely
weak position in both states. Rather than being the protagonists of reform they are by-standers
at the reform parade, and even at times the objects of reforms initiated by their political

The recent history of teachers’ unions in Michigan is a history of defeat and decline.2 In
the late 1960s and 1970s, strengthened by new legislation on collective bargaining for public
sector employees, the Michigan Education Association (MEA) and the Michigan Federation of
Teachers (MFT) won dramatic gains in salaries, benefits, and job security for their members.
These gains were won in substantial part through the unions’ exploitation of an expanded right to
strike, in conjunction with pattern bargaining that sought to match gains won in one district (often
after a strike) with similar gains in neighboring districts. Between 1967 and 1980 there were
454 teachers’ strikes against public school districts in Michigan, an average of almost 35 per
year (Citizens Research Council, 1994).

In the 1980s the strikes continued, at a somewhat diminished pace (18 per year, on
average), and teachers’ salaries continued to rise rapidly. In addition, the MEA established itself
as one of the dominant forces in Michigan politics, assuming “Godzilla-like” pre-eminence
within the state Democratic party (McDiarmid, 1993). In 1993, for example, the MEA was
reported to have provided more than $1.4 million in political contributions to candidates and
causes in the preceding year, including more than $900,000 for Democratic candidates for the
Michigan House of Representatives (Farrell, 1993). The union was also identified as one of the
two most powerful lobbying organizations in Michigan, along with the Chamber of Commerce
(Inside Michigan Politics, 1993).

Thanks to Katie (of What's on Katie's Mind) for this one.

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