Michigan Lawmakers Push "Right to Work" – But Only for Public School Employees

A bill was introduced in the Michigan state senate on Thursday that would apply so-called “right to work’ laws exclusively to public school employees represented by the Michigan Education Association (MEA). MEA President Steven Cook denounced the bill, SB 729, as a blatant political attack on school staff  and the wrong answer to the state’s economic problems and education challenges.

“This isn’t about people being forced to join a union,” Cook said. “The law already prevents that. What this bill actually does is allow for individuals to choose not to pay for services they receive under their collectively bargained contract. Instead of paying their fair share, they could ‘freeload,’ receiving the same representation and benefits as their colleagues while sticking others with the bill.”

Proponents of SB 729 believe public school employee unions are holding up improvements in the education system and claim the right-to-work initiative will boost the state’s economy. Some lawmakers have also argued that educators don’t understand the state’s grave economic climate – a preposterous claim, given the layoffs, salary and wage reductions and deep cuts to school funding that have affected every public school employee in 2011.

“On top of their current contributions, public school employees are now required to pay an additional 3% of their wages toward pension costs as well as a 20% co-pay on insurance premiums,” said Cook. “These additional sacrifices are estimated to cost school employees $533 million annually and do not include wage freezes and reductions that are currently being instituted around the state.”

A new study from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) finds that “right to work” would do nothing to improve Michigan’s economy, and in fact may increase the state’s unemployment rate. Seven of the 10 highest unemployment states, for example, have right-to-work laws on the books. In addition, right-to-work initiatives on average cause lower wages by about $1,500 per year for all workers in the state – union and non-union. A widespread reduction of wages, according to EPI, would only further damage the state’s economy.

Michigan is not the only state debating right-to-work legislation. In New Hampshire, the GOP-controlled House may soon pass a right–to-work bill over Gov. John Lynch’s veto. That law would cover all employee unions.

MEA’s is urging Gov. Rick Snyder, who has indicated he does not support the measure, to veto SB 729 if it reaches his desk and instead focus on more effective ways to lift Michigan’s economy.

“What does this bill have to do with helping students?  With creating jobs?  With helping our economy recover?” MEA President Cook asks.  ”So-called ‘right to work’ efforts – whether they apply only to school employees or to all workers in this state – are the wrong approach to helping Michigan’s economy.”

Learn more about educator wages at www.nea.org/pay.