News Story

Proposal 2 Could Protect Teachers Who Are Drunk, Dealing Drugs in the Classroom

Bay City contract shows what can happen when local union provisions overrule state laws

A union labor contract agreed to by the Bay City Public Schools school board and local teachers' union permits educators to sell drugs to students two times before being fired. 

In fact, as Michigan Capitol Confidential first reported last week, teachers are able to come to school drunk up to five times before they can be fired. It lets them teach while high on drugs up the three times before dismissal. The contract states on page 93 (see image nearby) that the first offense of a misdemeanor sale of tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs results in three day unpaid suspension and mandatory counseling. It is only after the second violation that the teacher could be fired.

The district is negotiating a new contract but the superintendent would not say these union protections would be excluded from a new deal.

It’s not yet known how widespread such abusive provisions may be, but this much is known: If Michigan voters approve Proposal 2 on Nov. 6, insane government union contract provisions like this would trump any laws the legislature may pass to limit them. Government union bosses would have more power than duly elected state legislators and the governor.

In addition, the power grab would be retroactive. For example, last year the legislature passed a law that takes school staffing decisions off the collective bargaining table, including assignments, methods for assessing teacher “effectiveness,” merit pay systems and more. But if Proposal 2 is enshrined in the state constitution, that law could not be enforced, and government unions could force elected officials to bargain over practically anything.

Take it from the president of the Michigan Education Association. MEA President Steve Cook was quoted saying, "At any point you find the Legislature where they have stepped in and said, 'You can no longer discuss these issues at the bargaining table, (Proposal 2) would overturn that.' " 

The Bay City teachers' contract said teachers "under the influence of intoxicating liquid" or "under the influence of, or involved in the illegal possession or use of illegal drugs" will only be disciplined after repeated violations. That language has been in Bay City teacher contracts since 1997. The new law cited above makes this provision unenforceable, but Proposal 2 would wipe that out.

If that sounds extreme, it is. The relevant provision of the proposal reads, “No existing or future law of the state or its political subdivisions shall abridge, impair or limit” unions’ ability to negotiate “wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment… ” (emphasis added)

In short, with just a few narrow exceptions, no state law past, present or future could limit the benefits and immunities government unions might win from elected officials who often have good reason to fear the political power of those unions. Including the “right” for union members to be drunk or stoned in classrooms with students.

Mackinac Center senior legal analyst Patrick Wright concurs:

"The National Labor Rights Board has held that drug use policy is a 'term and condition of employment' and subsection (3) of Proposal 2 does not allow state laws to 'abridge, impair, or limit' collective bargaining over them. If it were to pass, the collective bargaining agreement's terms (which only allow teacher suspensions or selling drugs in class the first time) would trump any state law that required teachers to be fired."

The problem of public employee unions is the inherent conflict of interest of unions extracting dues to pay officials to set worker compensation — and this is exacerbated at the local level. The teacher staffing decision law is one of several passed by the current Legislature seeking to redress serious imbalances in the relationships between government unions and their employers. CapCon has documented other pernicious effects of this imbalance, such as:

The response of government unions to the current legislature’s reform efforts was to bankroll Proposal 2, seeking not just to turn back the clock on reform, but to give themselves unprecedented new powers most would regard as alien to the core principles of democratic self government.

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.