Aft, Detroit Teachers: Republicans in Mich. House Jam through Anti-Union, Anti-Teacher Inadequate Aid Package

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The right-wing Republicans ruling the Michigan House have jammed through an anti-union, anti-teacher inadequate aid package that would do little for Detroit’s schools and schoolchildren, the American Federation of Teachers and its Detroit local said.

The package, approved in the wee morning hours of May 5, was “twisted into a partisan screed against Detroit teachers and school employees,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten and Detroit interim President Ivy Bailey.

They urged teachers to lobby lawmakers to reject it in favor of a Senate-passed alternative plan, and – if that did not occur – for GOP Gov. Rick Snyder to veto it.

The financial ills of the Detroit district, including the prospect of looming payless paydays, forced the teachers into a 2-day sickout in early May. It was so successful that 94 of the district’s 97 schools closed.

The schools also suffer from deteriorating buildings, health hazards – including dead mice found in the middle of classroom floors – and lack of supplies. The teachers have not had a raise in years and have suffered pay cuts and other financial slashes.

The district, now run by a Snyder-appointed administrator, says it is broke and needs state aid. The GOP-run Senate approved a $715 million aid package; the GOP-run House did not. Its package is $75 million-$100 million yearly, spread out over five years.

 

The House also orders destruction of union contracts, resignation of every Detroit school worker – who must reapply for his or her job – and other huge concessions, Bailey told her members.

"The partisan bills forced through in the dead of night by” GOP House “Speaker Kevin Cotter are some of the most despicable anti-student, anti-public school, anti-teacher provisions we've seen in America," said Bailey, AFT Michigan President David Hecker and Weingarten.

"Make no mistake: These bills discriminate against Detroit's children — who are overwhelmingly economically disadvantaged children and children of color — and are designed explicitly to punish teachers who speak up on behalf of their students and themselves. Many of the so-called teacher-related provisions have failed and been rejected when used in other jurisdictions."

The Detroit students are almost all majority-minority, as are most of the teachers and staff. The legislature is not.         

The union leaders called the House’s 5-year $500 million aid package, including a $33 million emergency loan, inadequate for the school system to pay down existing debt and still operate.

“And it does not recognize any existing bargaining units; staff would be stripped of the protections and benefits of their contracts. In contrast, the Senate bills would maintain worker contracts” the union leaders noted. The House measures also keep the Detroit district under control of the state-appointed Detroit Financial Review Commission, along with an elected school board.

“And these bills include overly prescriptive language, paving the way for the hiring of noncertified teachers and establishing a merit pay system that ties pay to student standardized test scores for all new hires. All of these accountability measures would only affect Detroit,” they added.

Things have gotten so bad for the Detroit teachers, the Center for American Progress reports, that they’re not just going door-to-door seeking political support, but they’re setting up lemonade stands to raise money.

The Detroit teachers are drawing support from other unions nationwide. AFSCME circulated an online open letter for its members to sign to send to Snyder, denouncing the state House legislation and urging him to veto it. American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox urged his members to lobby the governor to veto the measures, too.

“Legislation passed by the Michigan House to address the funding problems in Detroit Public Schools fails to provide enough money to get the schools out of debt and unfairly targets teachers and staff by stripping them of their workplace rights, benefits, and protections,” Cox said. “The House is exploiting the serious financial crisis in Detroit’s public schools to carry out an anti-worker and anti-government agenda that will set up generations of students for failure.”   

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Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Press Associates

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