MichiganVotes Bills

Bills to end merit pay, paycheck protection for Michigan teachers head to Whitmer’s desk

In the absence of merit pay, teachers Michigan would be rewarded for and protected by seniority

The Michigan Senate approved this week bills allowing the use of public school resources to facilitate union membership and ending merit pay for teachers, respectively. The two bills have passed both houses in identical forms and now head for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk.

Rep. Jaime Churches, D-Wyandotte, sponsored House Bill 4233, which would allow public employers to collect teacher union dues using school resources, an action currently prohibited under Michigan law.

Read it for yourself: House Bill 4233 of 2023

As the Senate Fiscal Analysis of the bill explains:

“The bill would amend the public employment relations Act to delete a prohibition against a public school employer using public school resources to assist a labor organization in collecting dues or service fees from the wages of public school employees.”

Related reading: Michigan House bill lets government schools deduct union dues from paychecks

In a June 23 committee meeting, Churches said the bill provides “a streamlined and efficient process for ensuring that educators could contribute to their chosen union.”

Steven Rzeppa, a director at AFSCME, spoke in support of the bill. AFSCME lost in the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision Janus v AFSCME, which protects government employees from forced union membership.

Sen. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, the lone Republican senator on the four-person labor committee, brought up the costs associated with paying a third party to collect the union dues. Increasing these costs for schools, he said, could divert money from other school programs and increase the amount taxpayers pay for public schools.

House Bill 4354, sponsored by Rep. Regina Weiss, D-Oak Park, would “delete prohibitions against certain subjects being included in a collective bargaining agreement between a public school employer and a bargaining representative,” according to the Senate Fiscal Agency analysis of the bill.

Read it for yourself: House Bill 4354 of 2023

This would allow teachers to bargain collectively with school administrators about merit versus seniority-based pay, teacher placement and evaluation, layoffs, disciplinary decisions, and more.

“It appears that this bill would take away a school administrator’s ability to place staff in positions where they can best meet the needs of the students,” Albert said. “This could result in a low-seniority English teacher, for example, getting bumped to a different class...for a less qualified teacher who’s been around longer. And that’s not in the best interest of students.”

Tammy Daenzer, UniServ director of the Michigan Education Association, claimed that because seniority equates to experience and expertise, “including seniority in these placement decisions is a positive factor.”

The bill would “bring these items back to the bargaining table so that all of the stakeholders that have a vested interest in a positive public education have their voice heard,” Daenzer told the committee. 

Merit-based pay can curtail union income because firing an underperforming teacher means one less source of dues. Salaries based on seniority do not require such administrative actions.

Merit-based pay also incentivizes teachers to provide the best education possible for their students. A 2021 study by The American Educational Research Journal showed that merit pay positively affects student academic performance, judging by standardized test scores.

“Exposing students to quality teachers is the best way schools can improve student outcomes,” said Molly Macek, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center.

“Quality is not measured by years of experience or credentials, but by the teacher’s impact on student achievement,” Macek added. “Policies like merit pay that reward performance encourage the recruitment and retention of quality teachers. Conversely, policies that prioritize seniority over performance make it easier for ineffective teachers to remain in the classroom and harder for effective ones with less experience to stay.” 

Therese Boudreaux is a Michigan Capitol Confidential intern.

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.