MIDLANDThe reason Detroit teachers have gone on strike is because they no longer have a school board that "is in their hip pocket," according to Robert P. Hunter, director of labor policy for the Midland-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy and former member of the National Labor Relations Board.
"The reason teachers did not strike for nearly five years was not because of Michigan's 1994 law that stiffened penalties against illegally striking teachers, but because the union used its political influence with the Detroit school board to have its demands met without striking," said Hunter. "The reason they are striking now is because of the new dynamica school board they cannot control, one that is willing to take a stand, and a CEO that is serious about reform. From their point of view, a strike is their only recourse, law or no law," Hunter said.
Hunter is quick to point out that there is no way to "prove" conclusively that the Detroit school board was controlled by the union, the Detroit Federation of Teachers, although he says this has been fairly common knowledge among observers for years. "But look at what happened then, and what is happening now," he said. "Reform after reform was tried, and no matter how much pressure was brought to bear, the union was able to negotiate contracts with the board that prevented reform from happening. Now suddenly, there is a board whose members are not in the union's hip pocket and the union must negotiate in good faith. The next thing we know, students, educators, and parents are suffering because of a strike."
Hunter said the pattern emerging in Detroit points to a problem that has always plagued public-sector unions: By pursuing their own interests, they end up inserting politics into government servicessuch as educationthat are supposed to be non-political. "Over time, the public-sector unions get so used to being political operators that when that avenue shuts down, they do not know what else to do but go on strike," Hunter said.
"No one wins when teachers strike," he added. "Especially hurt are the children who, already trapped in failing schools, suffer from union decisions that disregard their interests."