Contents of this issue:

  • MEA letter generates strike talk
  • Analyst: Bargaining may affect benefits more than wages
  • Emergency manager bill draws protestors
  • Harper Creek names itself insurance policyholder
  • Bill would move school board elections to November

MEA Letter Generates Strike Talk

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Education Association says it is not necessarily calling for a teacher strike in Michigan, but a state legislator says that’s exactly what the union meant in a statewide letter to local unit presidents, according to media reports. Teacher strikes are illegal in Michigan.

The letter from Iris Salters, MEA president, directs locals to vote on authorizing the MEA to “engage in significant activities ? up to and including a work stoppage," according to reports in Michigan Capitol Confidential and The Grand Rapids Press.

The union opposes the state’s revised emergency financial manager law as well as Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed cuts in school funding, The Press reported.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which also publishes Michigan Education Digest.

House Speaker Jase Bolger criticized Salters in a press release, saying the union was putting its interests ahead of school children and also endangering teachers’ jobs by asking them to participate in an illegal activity, according to The Press.

The letter advises employees that they could be fired for striking, but also that, "It is simply not possible to replace all or most school employees in the state ..." The Press reported.

The letter also said, "There may be some inconvenience for your students.”

The Grand Rapids Press, “Michigan Education Association leaders criticized for asking members to consider strike over ‘attack on people of Michigan,’” March 17, 2011

Michigan Capitol Confidential, “Illegal Teacher Strike Rumored After Union’s ‘Job Action’ Letter,” March 17, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Make Unions Accountable for Illegal Strikes,” Dec. 22, 2008

Analyst: Bargaining May Affect Benefits More than Wages

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Collective bargaining does not make a big difference in teacher wages, but may influence benefit levels, according to a report at the Education Next website.

Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute used data from the National Council on Teacher Quality to compare teacher wages and benefits in states where collective bargaining is illegal to those in other states, he wrote in a blog post.

The database consists of 100 of the largest districts in all 50 states, the report said. Detroit is the only Michigan district included.

Petrilli used the maximum salary a teacher with a bachelor’s degree could earn as the baseline for the comparison, he reported, and found that teachers in non-collective bargaining districts earn $64,500 on average, versus $57,500 for those in unionized settings.

Comparing benefits, Petrilli reported that he found that one-third of districts without collective bargaining offer free health insurance to employees, compared to one-half of those with collective bargaining.

Petrilli said that a deeper analysis would include more districts and take into consideration cost of living, but wrote, "Still, this is one indication that teachers, when stripped of their right to bargain collectively, rarely get sent to the poorhouse.”

Education Next, “Losing Their Bargaining Rights won’t send Teachers to the Poorhouse,” March 17, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Benefits in Balance

Emergency Manager Bill Draws Protestors

LANSING, Mich. — The point of Michigan’s revised emergency financial manager law is to keep school districts and cities out of bankruptcy, and to move quickly when they’re on the verge, state officials said last week. But the changes served to rally protestors who called it union busting, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Gov. Rick Snyder said the revisions give the state authority to intervene before cities or school districts collapse and before managers are appointed, the Free Press reported.

The Flint Firefighters Union offered new concessions as a hedge against the prospect of an emergency manager there, a union official told the Wall Street Journal.

At least 10 cities and districts currently may warrant a state review, State Treasurer Andy Dillon said, according to the report.

Critics disagreed with the new powers granted to emergency managers, including the authority to cancel union contracts, the Free Press reported. About 5,000 people rallied at the Capitol, both to oppose the bill and to use the debate to build momentum for 2012 elections, according to the Free Press.

A list posted at the Michigan Department of Education website indicates there were 43 public school districts in deficit as of June 30, 2010, and nine were expected to still be in a deficit position as of June 30, 2011.

The Flint Firefighters Union has offered new concessions to help ward off the prospect of an emergency manager there, a union official told the Wall Street Journal.

Detroit Free Press, “5,000 rally at Michigan Capitol,” March 17, 2011

Michigan Department of Education, “Michigan Public Schools with Deficits

Wall Street Journal, "Michigan boosts power to intervene in cities," March 18, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Mackinac Center Recommendations Found In New Financial Emergency Legislation,” March 17, 2011

Harper Creek Names Itself Insurance Policyholder

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Harper Creek Community Schools is now the policyholder of the district’s health insurance plan for teachers, a move that won’t change benefits but that a union representative called a power grab, according to the Battle Creek Enquirer.

Previously, the Michigan Education Special Services Association was the policyholder of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan plan that Harper Creek provides to teachers, the Enquirer reported. MESSA is affiliated with the Michigan Education Association.

Becoming its own policyholder means the district can negotiate directly with Blue Cross Blue Shield on pricing, attorney Ray Davis, told the Enquirer.

He said MESSA likely will not agree to continue to administer benefits, the Enquirer reported. Davis is with the Thrun Law Firm and is handling the district’s negotiations with the Harper Creek Education Association.

Davis told the Enquirer that the switch does not allow the district to change teachers’ health coverage or the cost to teachers; those issues must be settled through negotiations.

Tara Wilbur, the MEA representative for Harper Creek teachers, declined to comment to the Enquirer in a phone interview, but said in an e-mail, "It's a matter of power and the board wants full control and are willing to deny our rights to get it."

Battle Creek Enquirer, “Harper Creek schools take over teachers' health insurance,” March 17, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Michigan School Databases, “Master Agreement between the Harper Creek Board of Education and the Harper Creek Education Association, MEA-NEA

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “It’s up to school boards to save insurance dollars,” Nov. 14, 2007

Bill Would Move School Board Elections to November

LANSING, Mich. — School districts would have to conduct all school board elections in November starting in 2012 if the state Legislature approves a bill now under consideration, according to the Michigan Information & Research Service. Currently districts may conduct elections in November or May.

Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth, introduced House Bill 4006. He said it would save money and increase voter turnout to add school board elections to the general election ballot and split the cost among all participants, MIRS reported. The districts could still conduct millage and bond elections in May.

The House Fiscal Agency estimated the cost of school board elections in November to be $5,000 to $10,000, while running a stand-alone election costs $25,000 to $50,000, according to MIRS.

County clerks are split on the issue, MIRS reported. Kent County’s Mary Hollinrake said she was concerned about the November ballot becoming too long, while Macomb County’s Carmella Sabaugh said the bills would mean a $400,000 annual savings in Macomb County as well as higher voter turnout on school funding issues.

Michigan Information & Research Service Inc., “Which month costs more for school elections?” (Subscription required)

MichiganVotes, “2011 House Bill 4006 (Require school elections be in November to revise details in the state election law to conform with the election consolidation provisions proposed by House Bill 4005)”

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (http://www.educationreport.org), an online newspaper published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (http://www.mackinac.org), a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Lorie Shane at med@educationreport.org

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