This paper is a survey of how Michigan school districts responded to laws passed in 2011 that significantly changed the rules for collective bargaining with teachers unions.
These new laws were intended to give school officials better ability to retain and reward high-performing teachers by prohibiting districts from collectively bargaining over teacher placement, layoff and evaluation policies, among other things. School officials can now act unilaterally with respect to these policies, and school labor attorneys have advised school districts to fully remove all language pertaining to these subjects from their collective bargaining agreements.
The reforms did not take immediate effect — districts were required to adhere to the new laws when their then current collective bargaining agreement expired. As such, the implementation of the 2011 reforms has been staggered, with each district implementing the changes on their own unique schedule.
This paper surveys the contracts of Michigan’s 200 largest school districts and assesses how these districts attempted to comply with the 2011 reforms. It finds that about 60 percent of the districts that were subject to the 2011 reforms did not wholly remove prohibited language from their collective bargaining agreements or agreed to immediately reinstate this language if state law were to change. Some districts agreed to union contracts that made no changes to the prohibited language but to note it did not apply for certain employees, and other districts seem not to have attempted to comply with some provisions of the law in a discernable way.
In light of these findings, policymakers may want to conduct a thorough review of school district compliance with the 2011 reforms, and may consider adding penalties for noncompliance — a feature that is missing from current state law. By failing to remove language pertaining to prohibited subjects of bargaining, many school districts are providing conflicting information to the public, school employees and school principals. These contracts give the impression that these districts may still be acting in a way that appears to conflict with the intent of the 2011 legislative reforms.