News Story

Teacher Right-to-Work Looking Like a Done Deal

Support from Senate, House and Governor may align for swift passage

Chances look good for passage and enactment of legislation to provide right-to-work status for Michigan public school teachers. Under the measure, called the “Freedom to Teach Act,” teachers would no longer be required to join or support a union as a condition of employment.

At the end of last week, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, announced the measure on Michigan public television’s "Off the Record," and asserted that he strongly supported it. The legislation is expected to be formally introduced Tuesday or Wednesday.

Lawmakers and political observers are often reluctant to predict the chances of passage for any specific piece of legislation, but in this case the stars seem to be aligning in a very favorable fashion. By all indications, the measure is likely to be passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder.

A source close to the Snyder administration was asked if the Governor would sign the “Freedom to Teach Act.” The answer: Snyder's policy has been that he wouldn't press right-to-work as an agenda item, but he'd sign it if it reached his desk.

But would that position apply to right-to-work just for teachers?

The source replied that he'd be “shocked” if Gov. Snyder didn't sign it.

When Sen. Richardville announced the measure on Friday, it wasn't clear whether he was acting on his own or as part of a coordinated GOP effort. The fact that Republicans had worked with Snyder's team on the recently announced school reform bills indicated that some sort of coordination might have been involved.

However, it now appears that Richardville decided on his own to make the announcement.

“I knew he would support it, but I didn't know he was going to announce it on "Off the Record" that way,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Arlan Meekof, R-West Olive.

Meekof said he has been working on the legislation for a very long time.

“Actually, I started working on this way back when I was a House member,” he said. “It's one of the things we've looked at to try to let teachers break out of the mediocrity that we see in our education system.”

Would the legislation stand a good chance of being passed by the Senate?

"I think so,” Meekof said. “It's an opportunity to let teachers get farther away from union goons. That should give them a better chance to break away from the mediocrity. That should make things better for our schools and our children.”

Political observers generally assume that the legislation would pass easily in the Michigan House. However, Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, responded cautiously when asked about the legislation's chances in that chamber.

“At this point we don't know specifically what the bill will look like or what will happen with it in the Senate,” Adler said. “We don't generally comment on legislation we haven't seen. With that said, however, on the concept behind the legislation, the Speaker has been very interested in pursuing right-to-work. We would certainly look at this [proposed legislation] as a way to get that conversation started.”

Considering the apparent predisposition of the House and the governor, if the legislation runs into any snags, they would most likely pop up at the beginning of the process in the Michigan Senate. At this point, however, efforts to block the legislation in the Senate would probably be considered long shots.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Phil Pavlov, R-St Clair, joined the chorus of those who said they were surprised when Sen. Richardville made his statements on TV.

“We've talked about a lot of things, but I really didn't know about this one,” Pavlov said. “I guess the Senate Leader has his own timing.”

Sen. Pavlov said he couldn't evaluate the chances of the “Freedom to Teach Act” passing in the Senate, because he actually knows very little about it.

“I'll be glad when we can get together Tuesday and talk about all of this,” Sen. Pavlov said. “I have been working very hard on our package of reform bills, which includes more parental choice, charter schools and things like dual enrollment. We also have a bill that would allow schools to contract out for instructors, just like they do now for things like maintenance and transportation. It's not quite 'right to work' for teachers, but some of the effects would be similar.”

“We announced our reform package last Wednesday,” Sen. Pavlov added. “I've been so immersed in those reforms that I'll have to do some catching up on this.”

For years, it's been suspected that a significant percentage of teachers would opt out of their unions if given the opportunity to do so. The percentage of teachers who don't generally agree with the political positions of their unions has traditionally been tabbed at about 40 percent. One argument in favor of the legislation is that teachers who don't agree with union political stances shouldn't have to pay dues that will eventually be used to support those stances.

Unions, however, argue that if teachers don't have to be in unions, then they end up gaining the advantages of union collective bargaining without paying for them.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.