March 14, 2020
Dear MEA members,
As your MEA President, I wanted to reach out and update you regarding how MEA is engaging around the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on our students and our members.
Commitment to Safety
Obviously, we’re committed first and foremost to everyone’s safety. As I said in a statement released Thursday night after Gov. Whitmer announced the statewide school closures, we need to heed the advice of public health experts and stop the spread of this outbreak. As such, I’ll refer you to the experts on how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe – go to www.michigan.gov/coronavirus for the latest information from the state.
Meeting Student Needs
I can’t tell you how proud I am of our members across the state who are focused on the needs of our students. In the past few days, educators from elementary through higher education have scrambled to provide distance learning alternatives as best we can – with the understanding that none of this is a complete replacement for the face-to-face education students are missing (especially for those with special needs or struggling with poverty). Educators are banding together, sharing resources and expertise, and helping to make the best of an unprecedented situation.
And then, there are our education support professionals. From school custodians to bus drivers to secretaries to food service workers and beyond, our ESP colleagues are proving yet again why they’re an essential part of providing a great education to our students. To our ESP members – THANK YOU for everything you’re doing to make our schools clean and safe, and for helping to keep students in need fed during this crisis.
MEA is in constant communication with the Governor’s office and the Michigan Department of Education about developments. There are still questions to be answered at both the state and local level about special education, meal distribution, and more. We’ll do our very best to keep you updated on developments, but please stay in touch at the local level (particularly as announcements about meal availability are made now that we have a waiver to do so from the federal government).
Protecting Member Rights
At the same time, we have an obligation to you as our members to ensure that we support your needs. We were pleased to hear Gov. Whitmer’s call for employees to be paid during this closure, and we’re working with school districts and the Legislature to make sure that happens. Many districts have already done the right thing and committed to paying all employees as if schools were open. Our lobbyists are working with others from the education community on a legislative solution – we hope to have more news on that when lawmakers return to Lansing next week.
We know that different school districts are handling this crisis differently – and that’s as expected, as each community has their own distinct needs. We also know that this situation is changing rapidly. Our local leaders and staff are in contact with districts to ensure that decisions are made in consultation with local unions and with an understanding of the needs of employees.
There are many questions and issues to discuss locally, such as ensuring the safety of employees who are required to report to work, potential adjustments to the school calendar, and protecting the rights of members who become ill or need to care for loved ones. Michigan has collective bargaining for school employees for a reason – to ensure employees have a voice in decisions – and we are committed to using that process in a collaborative way that balances the needs of districts, employees, parents, communities, public health and, especially, the students we serve.
Being a Responsible Employer
MEA also has a responsibility as an employer in this crisis. We have worked with our staff and their union representation to ensure the safety of our employees while meeting the needs of our members. We’ve cancelled upcoming events; added flexibility to our sick leave policies; implemented social distancing recommendations from the state; moved to split schedules as needed to ensure coverage; and are allowing employees that can work from home to do so. MEA, as well as MESSA and MEA Financial Services, are open to help you in this crisis, while following the common-sense recommendations to protect public health.
Here for YOU in this Crisis and Beyond
I can guarantee there will be issues and unforeseen developments in the next few weeks – that’s the nature of this unprecedented crisis. MEA will do everything in our power to keep you informed and to represent the interests of our nearly 125,000 members across the state – for updates, visit www.mea.org/coronavirus.
While we address this crisis, MEA also remains committed to continuing to move forward on important issues that will last beyond this crisis, including the critical election this fall. We will continue to communicate and advocate on all fronts that you’ve come to expect from your union.
If you have an issue that needs to be addressed, your best first line of contact is your local association president and/or building representative. MEA’s local UniServ staff are working with those leaders to address issues with employers as they come up. If you need help reaching someone locally, please contact the MEA Help Center at email@example.com or 866-MEA-HELP (866-632-4357) – understanding that response times could be longer due to staffing levels.
The keys to our success – both in slowing the spread of this virus and in meeting the needs of students and school employees alike – are to show as much patience as possible, to listen to the facts with an open mind, and to respect the expertise of public health officials. Together, we will weather this crisis.
I wish health and safety for you and yours. Take care of each other.