Failure of Anti-Strike Law to Deter Teachers Calls for New Measures, Analyst Says

MIDLAND—If Detroit teachers can violate public trust in the continuation of essential services, defy the state legislature's ban on teacher strikes and suffer zero consequences—including fines called for in the law—then lawmakers should consider stiffer measures, a labor expert for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy said today.

"The Detroit situation shows us that the prospect of fines has not been a sufficient deterrent to dissuade teachers from taking matters into their own hands, contrary even to the recommendations of their union," said Robert P. Hunter, director of labor policy for the Center. "Obviously, the teachers believe either: a) that fines will never be levied because an overall settlement would render them unlikely; or b) that fines are an acceptable penalty to assure defeat for reform efforts and a more favorable contract," Hunter said. "Consequently, other measures should be taken to guarantee the public's need for uninterrupted services."

Hunter, a former member of the National Labor Relations Board, suggests lawmakers consider a system that automatically freezes teachers' wages and benefits at prior contract levels six months for every day they strike in violation of the law. In other words, for each day a teacher engages in an unlawful strike or work stoppage, he or she would forfeit 6-months-worth of wage or benefit gains negotiated in the new contract, and would be paid according to the previous contract rates. Under a three-year contract, for example, a teacher who strikes for 6 or more days would forfeit all wage and benefit gains called for in that contract.

"Teachers who repudiate the collective bargaining process by taking matters into their own hands should not benefit from any bargain that is struck through that process," Hunter said. "If they have engaged in unlawful activity, they should not be allowed to benefit from a contract resolution that was brought about through lawful means," he added.

"When fines are determined to be an acceptable price to pay for holding the public and the school district hostage, then other penalties should be considered which will achieve the public purpose of keeping the parties engaged in good faith bargaining," Hunter said. "The Detroit teachers' wildcat strike stands as a stark example of contempt for the laws of the state of Michigan, one that cannot be ignored by lawmakers in Lansing."