Union Complains About New Teachers’ Low Pay - In Contracts It Negotiated

It’s a trade-off: Pay starts low and rises quickly as seniority builds

The Michigan Education Association’s president, Paula Herbart, has claimed that new teachers need to be paid more if the state is to stop seeing younger teachers leave the profession.

“We must commit to improve starting salaries for new teachers, along with all school employees. Salary levels that do not support basic necessities — including payments on ever-greater student loans — are driving early departures from the profession,” Herbart wrote in a commentary published in the May 12 edition of The Detroit News.

What Herbart did not say is that unions, including her own, negotiate what teachers are paid. Because MEA contracts base the salaries of public school teachers on two criteria – years of service and college credits attained – newer teachers start out at the bottom of the union pay scale, regardless of their ability.

But school districts are now realizing that union contracts are problematic and finding ways to work around them.

Jackson Public Schools, for instance, is offering a $10,000 signing bonus to new hires and offering student loan forgiveness.

Even without signing bonuses, however, new teachers don’t stay at the bottom of the union pay scale for long.

Erika Bushey is a Lansing School District teacher who appeared in a MEA video and talked about the difficulties of retaining teachers.

“Unfortunately, the retention rate is low,” Bushey said in the video. “There are so many teachers that I have worked with that have left the field because they don’t feel respected as educators.”

In Bushey’s first year on the job (2014-15), her gross pay was $36,316. Five years later (2019-20), her gross pay had increased to $52,618, for a 45% increase. Gross pay includes all money paid by the district to teachers, including extra assignments such as coaching a sports team or working summer school.

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.