Lawmakers must restore educators’ voice in the workplace

During a sustained political assault on the education profession a decade ago, educators had many rights stripped away that provided a critical voice in their classrooms and workplaces.

Soon, state lawmakers may restore these essential bargaining and job security rights to help stabilize the education workforce and improve the quality of education our kids receive.

Michigan schools continue to struggle with a shortage of teachers and education support professionals, particularly in rural and urban areas. While we’re beginning to make strides in addressing the educator shortage through increased funding for local schools and targeted programs designed to attract talent to the education field, state leaders must also roll back harmful laws targeting educators and their ability to collectively bargain over their working conditions.

Veteran educators saw our current challenges coming a mile away. A series of punitive bills passed in the early 2010s were intentionally designed to weaken educators’ fundamental workplace rights, silence their voices on classroom issues, and harm their unions’ ability to advocate for rank-and-file school employees and the students they serve.

The fallout of these laws continues today, affecting everyone involved with public education, from teachers and students to bus drivers and parents. The decade-old partisan assault on educators and their unions led to a diminished profession in which fewer talented people want to work.

These mean-spirited bills were passed alongside legislation making deep cuts to school funding and providing massive tax breaks for corporations. The for-profit companies serving private and charter schools stood to benefit from weaker public schools — never mind that the vast majority of Michigan students, parents and educators were left to suffer the consequences.

Between substandard pay, immense stress and educators’ being treated like political punching bags, it’s hard to blame those deciding to take their talents elsewhere.

Christopher DeYonke, a special education teacher at Farmington High School, recently testified before the House Labor Committee in support of legislation to repeal Public Act 54, a 2011 law that freezes employees’ step increases and forces them to pay 100% of any insurance premium increases once a contract expires. DeYonke told the committee that the anti-educator laws of the early 2010s decimated the profession he loves.

The “proud son of two public school teachers,” DeYonke described his middle-class upbringing as “stable and happy,” saying his teacher parents were “never rich but never poor.”

“This profession today is not what it was for my parents’ generation,” DeYonke testified, getting choked up as he struggled to hold back tears. “Changes from the Legislature have moved people out of this profession. They’ve caused veteran teachers to retire early, and they’ve scared off prospective teachers.”

“These changes hurt not only my children, but children across the state.”

It’s time we as a state once again show that we value our children’s educators.

We must improve take-home pay and benefits for teachers and education support professionals.

We must return to full and fair negotiations on important school and workplace issues, like evaluation systems, job placement and the impact of outsourcing school jobs to private, for-profit contractors.

We must restore due process rights that protect quality educators from being fired due to unfair treatment by administrators – while improving evaluation procedures that hold school employees accountable. We must help underperforming educators improve their craft so they can better serve students – not simply test and punish both.

Only by respecting educators as professionals can we attract talented candidates to this noble profession and keep the best and brightest working in our schools to help our kids succeed.

After all, educators’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions — and improving one will improve the other.

Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Ray Curry, Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights Executive Secretary-Treasurer Tom Lutz and selected Service Employees International Union members.

(Posted as submitted to Detroit News –







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