House Aims to Add Teeth to Teacher Strike Penalties

Lawmaker complains that teachers would be punished worse than pedophiles under the proposal and that "shooting" teachers is "next step"

In 2006, teachers at the Detroit Public Schools went on an illegal strike for 16 days.

Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Public School teachers’ union, said the penalty for that act was that the teachers had to make up the days without pay. No other penalties were imposed, Johnson said.

Putting more bite into the penalty for striking teachers is the impetus for two bills in the state House of Representatives. The proposals would make it easier to penalize teachers who illegally go on strike.

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“There needs to be sanctions that are enforceable when teachers strike,” said state Rep. Rick Olson, R-Saline. “It’s been a problem where teachers in the past have been able to violate the law and nothing was done.”

Johnson said the law already allows for penalties against striking teachers.

“It’s unfortunate these Republicans have launched this relentless assault on teachers,” he said. “They are further demoralizing an already demoralized profession.”

House Bill 4465 and House Bill 4466 would suspend or revoke a teacher’s teaching certificate, and impose fines equal to one day’s pay for teachers and $5,000 per day for union representatives.

A key part of House Bill 4466, sponsored by Rep. Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc, is that it allows a school district to consolidate the numerous employee hearings that are required to determine if a strike occurred. A stumbling block to the previous bill was that each teacher alleged to have participated in an illegal strike would be granted their own hearing.

Scott is the chair of the House Education Committee.

Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, is the sponsor of House Bill 4465. According to the Livingston Daily, the outgoing head of the Brighton MEA affiliate has publicly encouraged teachers to either seek the recall of Rogers or work to defeat him at the ballot box in 2012 if “he doesn’t withdraw all of his anti-teacher legislation.” Similar statements were made regarding Gov. Snyder.

“I stand with Governor Snyder and Chairman Rogers as the teachers’ union tries to remove them from office,” said Scott on his Facebook page Thursday morning. “Both are stand up men and true public servants. Putting community above self and political ambition.”

Paul Kersey, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s director of labor policy, said the existing law is costly and time consuming since each striking teacher is granted their own hearing.

“It’s time consuming, expensive and, in a large enough district, impractical and almost impossible,” Kersey said.

Local unions across the state have been voting on whether to grant the Michigan Education Association the authority to start crisis action, which includes work stoppages. Unlike most other districts statewide, Detroit teachers are not represented by the MEA. Their union is the Detroit Federation of Teachers – an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

Johnson is the DFT president. He says his union will not be striking.

“We have a collective bargaining agreement in effect until 2012,” he said.

The current law states that striking employees are fined an amount equal to one day’s pay and the bargaining representative would face a $5,000 per day fine for each strike day.

State Rep. Doug Geiss said pedophiles will face more penalties than teachers if the sanctions proposed in the two House bills become law.

"We're making teachers out to be felons,” Geiss, D-Taylor, was quoted in Michigan Information & Research Service. “Felons get less time. Pedophiles get less time then what we're talking about holding teachers to."

Geiss also said in MIRS: "At this point in time, I feel like, basically, the next step is to take teachers out back and shoot them if they don't follow the law.”

Geiss didn’t respond to a phone call and email left at his office.

Johnson said that the law was already changed after the Detroit teacher’s strike in 2006. He said the fine is now $250 per day on top of one day’s pay for striking employees.

But Mackinac Center experts pointed to the law that says there is no fine and that the law hasn’t been updated since 1994. When told the law's history stated that it hasn’t been changed since 1994, Johnson said he stood by his comments and would have the union’s attorneys look into it.

“Why are they focusing on something that happened six years ago?” Johnson asked. “You already have a very forceful form of remediation that is available to you that you haven’t even used yet.”

The 16-day strike in September 2006 was not the only work stoppage by the district’s teachers since the statewide ban on teacher strikes was signed into law. A Detroit walkout took place in 1999, and a case of “blackboard flu” also took place in March 2006.

After the Sept. 2006 strike had ended, the Detroit News reported that there were 25,000 fewer students in the classrooms than expected on the first day school was back in session.

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