News Story

Why this Michigan paraprofessional left AFSCME

AFSCME has seen its Michigan membership fall by 49% since 2012, when right-to-work was signed into law

Sue Z. is a para-professional for special needs students for a public school district in Michigan. For the sake of privacy, Sue asked that her last name be changed.

She was a member of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union until Aug. 2021 when she left because she felt the union did not properly represent her, and that it didn’t address her COVID-19 concerns regarding her special needs students.

Sue has worked as a para-professional for what was once called the Creative Learning Program. The program worked with students who have minor learning challenges because of conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and high-functioning autism.

However, Sue says the program has evolved over the past twenty years and now includes students with more severe mental health and special needs issues. She says this includes non-verbal children with autism, severe behavioral disorders, and other severe challenges.

Though the program has evolved to include working with students with severe learning challenges, she says the pay has not. Sue says the union has done little to fight for an increase in pay to compensate with the substantial increase in responsibility.

Sue started out as a substitute in the district and went on to work with Early Childhood Special Education as an employee, teaching students two to four-years-old. She now works at the district middle school.

When Sue and her colleagues talked with the union about bargaining for a wage increase, they were told to by union representatives that if they wanted more pay, they should apply to become a one-on-one paraprofessional, which pays more. One-on-one paraprofessionals work with students individually.

She says paraprofessionals in those positions would earn more through an annual end-of-the-year stipend. Sue says they invited the union representatives into the classroom on multiple occasions so they could see first hand the challenges of teaching special needs students with more severe issues.

When students returned after a COVID-19 shut down during the 2020-2021 school year, Sue says there were no exemptions for special needs students to not wear masks. She says trying to force the kids in her classes to wear masks disrupted learning, at a time when students were already behind.

Sue says that when the union did not intervene during COVID-19, it was the last straw for her. She left the union Aug. 2021.

The AFSCME union has shed membership since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the union in Janus vs. AFSCME in 2018. The court ruled in favor of right-to-work protections for all public employees in the country, including public school employees. Public sector workers cannot be required to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

The AFSCME has seen a 10% decrease in membership nationally, losing 126,097 members since the ruling. The state union saw its membership drop from 48,625 in 2012 when right-to-work was passed in Michigan, to 24,728 in 2022, a 49.1% drop.

The Democrats in Lansing hold all of the gavels in government necessary to repeal right-to-work protections for employees.

The Michigan House passed two right-to-work repeal bills on Wednesday in party line votes. House Bill 4004 is for public sector workers, and House Bill 4005 is for private sector workers.

Even if a right-to-work repeal is passed and signed into law, the Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus vs AFSCME prevents forced union dues in the public sector. This includes public school employees.

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.