A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Teachers Denied Freedom to Vote on Unionization

Only 1 percent of current teachers in state's largest districts voted on becoming unionized

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In Grand Rapids Public Schools, 40 percent of the teachers are 40 years old or younger as of last fall, which means they were years away from being born when their school district was unionized in 1965.

Like most other teachers in Michigan, they’ve never been given a choice as to whether they want to be unionized or who should represent them in bargaining. In Michigan’s largest school districts, only 1 percent of the current teachers were around when their districts were unionized, according to a study by The Heritage Foundation.

The largest statewide teachers unions in Michigan are the Michigan Education Association, which is a division of the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers. The Detroit Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the AFT, represents teachers in the Detroit Public Schools.

The study included the Detroit, Utica, Dearborn, Plymouth-Canton, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Chippewa Valley, Warren, Walled Lake and Livonia school districts. Utica was unionized in 1971, Plymouth-Canton was unionized in 1983 and Chippewa Valley started a union in 1985, according to the study. The rest of the districts started unions in 1965.

Generations later, teachers are denied the freedom to vote on whether they even want to be in a union, never mind whether they want to maintain their affiliation with a union that was started before many of them were born.

The Public Employment Relations Act became law in 1965 in Michigan and allowed the unionization of public sector employees. Once certified, a union isn’t required to go up for another vote unless it is officially challenged. Only Wisconsin requires government unions to stand for re-election, according to the study.

"It shows that the unions do not actually 'represent' Michigan’s teachers," said James Sherk, senior policy analyst in labor economics for The Heritage Foundation. "Almost no current teachers asked (or voted) for union representation. Rather they were required to accept union representation as a condition of working in their public school systems. The union might reflect their concerns and their priorities, or it might not — but today's teachers never had a say in who would represent them at the bargaining table."

Michigan Education Association Spokesman Doug Pratt didn't return an email seeking comment.

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See also:

Michigan Capitol Confidential Coverage of Teacher Unions

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Star International Academy is the highest ranked high school in Michigan on the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's Contest and Performance report card for both 2014 and 2012. The study and a database of every school in the state can be found at www.Mackinac.org/CAP.

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