News Story

Teachers Union Pushes Districts To Boycott Some University Students Over Politics

EMU education student: 'It is outrageous'

Students at Eastern Michigan University pursuing teaching degrees are not happy with a union promoted boycott of their services.

The Washtenaw County Education Association, which is an affiliate of the Michigan Education Association, sent letters to each of the eight districts its members represent urging them not to accept student teachers from EMU because of the university affiliation with the Education Achievement Authority, MLive reported. Gov. Rick Snyder started the EAA, which is a special borderless district the state's most severely under-performing schools are placed in.

Six of the eight districts in Washtenaw County support blocking student teachers from EMU from working in their schools.

Anthony Wozniak, a secondary education student at EMU, called the boycott "outrageous."

"[T]his directly affects me and a lot of my classmates," Wozniak said. "The WCEA [is] punishing the students for what Eastern Michigan University is doing, and whether or not you think Eastern should be part of the EAA, the WCEA should not be boycotting student teachers."

To make matters worse, the president of the union is ducking the chance to explain the union's action to lawmakers.

Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, said WCEA President Tim Heim has informed her that he won't be available to testify about the boycott before the House Education Committee, which Rep. Lyons chairs. Heim's lack of availability apparently is a permanent status.

On Oct. 30, Rep. Lyons publicly invited Heim to testify before the House Education Committee, but she said this week that he can't find any time in his schedule to testify.

"We just heard back from him that he can't make it,” Rep. Lyons said Wednesday. "But this was an open invitation (which is not limited to a specific date or time) to come before the committee. So, he says he can't make it — even when it is an open invitation?"

In April, the union sent letters on behalf of school union presidents in Dexter, Chelsea, Lincoln, Saline, Whitmore Lake and Manchester schools, advising teachers not to accept student teachers from EMU. The individual school district unions involved with the boycott are all chapters of the MEA.

"No matter how you look at this action, the Washtenaw County Education Association, an MEA affiliate, is truly a bully," said F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of Labor Policy with Mackinac Center for Public Policy. "Worse, it is bullying a group of students who have no control over the issue. Union President Tim Heim should be ashamed of his organization's attempt to harm the careers of young teachers to make a political point. Thankfully, when many of these students graduate they will have the ability to choose whether to support a union or not and these students will have long memories."

EMU officials have reported that the union instigated boycott has had a negative impact on its student teacher placements.

"This concerns us deeply, as the welfare and career path of our students is our primary concern," said Leigh R. Greden, EMU's vice president of government and community relations. "We agree with many in our state and community who do not think it is appropriate for an organization to take actions that could potentially affect the careers of our high quality teaching students, and the education of young people in our state.

"A large majority of our teaching students are from Michigan, and most plan to stay and teach in Michigan," he said. "Having a roadblock in their career development could lead them to look for opportunities outside Michigan."

The boycott won't force EMU to drop its affiliation with the EAA, he said.

Wozniak said he is going into teaching "because I want to help future generations of children" and that it's wrong for the union to try and stand in the way of that.

"When politics get in the way, we can't do our jobs and we certainly can't help anyone if we are not allowed to student teach," Wozniak said. "I don't agree with the teachers union on many things, and I think this is just another reason why the teachers union wants to flex its muscle and hurt everyone involved."

This is not the first time the MEA has tried to bully student teachers. In 1994, the MEA threatened to stop accepting Saginaw Valley State University student teachers from getting into classrooms to pursue their careers because SVSU was approved to charter schools in Michigan. The MEA also said it would tell its members who were alumni of SVSU to stop donating to the school if it worked to charter schools against the MEA's wishes.

WCEA President Heim could not be reached for comment. MEA spokesperson Nancy Knight did not respond to a request for comment.

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.