Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Michigan Attempts to Crush Teachers Unions

A House committee of the Republican Michigan Legislature approved legislation this week banning school districts from deducting union dues from teachers’ pay, according to the Detroit News. If the legislation passes, it will serious hamper union activities by making it much more difficult for the unions to collect dues and amass war chests for organizing, lobbying and attempting to purchase politicians.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Haveman, said "I don't believe the schools should be in the business of being the bill collectors for the unions." However, because of the automated payroll systems, it costs the districts virtually nothing to include union dues in the billing. Even Haveman himself admitted that the savings would be nominal.

The real motivation behind the legislation is clearly to weaken the unions. David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers in Michigan was quoted by the Detroit News saying "The goal is to totally undercut the voice of teachers by totally undercutting their unions."

As if any more proof was needed, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, suggested that a "right to teach" bill would be a good idea, undermining the ability of unions to create closed shops in which all employees must become members. While it is true that Michigan and most other states do not have truly closed shops for teachers and teachers can opt out of the union, they still often get some money deducted from their paychecks for union representation and generally get the same contracts as the fully paying members. If a “right to teach” bill were successful, one likely implication would be that all teachers would have to negotiate individual contracts with their districts, without the power and benefits of collective bargaining, most likely resulting in significantly lower wages and benefits.

It should be pointed out that the automatic dues check off, while making it easier for unions to finance themselves, is certainly not necessary for a union to be effective. In fact, it may actually contribute to the bureaucratization, laziness and wimpiness of union officials. Back in the day, there was no automatic dues check off and union organizers had to collect dues from each member in person, giving them the chance to do more real organizing, listening to members’ grievances and suggestions. It forced them to be more accountable to members because they failed to make members happy, they simply refused to pay their dues.

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