David Hecker: Anti-worker policies from the Snyder era are holding Michigan back

By David Hecker, Michigan Advance

Labor Day is a time to reflect on the hard-fought victories unions have won for all working people and consider our path forward as we continue our work to defend and uplift workers everywhere. 

Usually, union members would be marching together down Michigan Avenue today — but while COVID prevents us from gathering for a parade this year, we’re still just as determined to ensure working people’s voices are heard on Labor Day and year-round.

As president of AFT Michigan, I’ve had the privilege of fighting alongside thousands of passionate, hardworking educators and school staff, be it pre-K-12 or higher education, to improve public education and ensure that both educators and students have the resources they need to be successful. Our members inspire me every day with their passion, drive and commitment to their students. 

But a series of anti-worker and anti-educator policies passed during former Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration is holding them back and diminishing their voices. If we don’t undo these anti-worker laws and allow educators to be heard, we’ll lose important opportunities to strengthen public education and do what is best for our students.

When most people think of unions, their minds go straight to bargaining for better pay. They’re not wrong either — unions have helped secure better wages for workers across all industries, both members and non-members. We’ve fought for workplace safety and reasonable hours, and we serve as a needed check on employers.

Perhaps most importantly, unions strengthen the voice of working people, because we know that we are stronger when we stand together than we ever could be as individuals. Unfortunately, those in power aren’t always willing to listen — and such has been the case in public education for decades. 

It was only a few years ago when the Snyder administration went after pre-K-12 educators, limiting the scope of their bargaining rights. Under this law, unions are no longer able to bargain over standards for discipline or dismissal of teachers, procedures for assigning and transferring teachers, or the methods by which teachers are evaluated. In addition, the Snyder administration drastically reduced the standard for firing a teacher and made the payroll deduction of dues for K-12 employees prohibited.  

All of these have made it more difficult for educators to be heard in their workplaces and have a say in issues that directly affect them. And educators, as are all employees with union representation, are impacted by Right to Work designed to limit worker voice.

Meanwhile, many lawmakers keep raising the already high stakes of standardized testing, diminishing the value of learning and experience that can’t be measured with multiple choice questions, over the objections of educators — and they’ve even been turned into a method of evaluating teacher success, something they were never designed to do. Once again, educators’ voices are ignored.

Teachers and staff, be they in pre-K-12, community colleges or universities, know how best to educate our students.  It is mind boggling that anyone would want to limit their voices.

When you consider these laws, it’s no surprise that we face a teacher shortage. We can’t keep losing good teachers because of laws that undercut their voices. We must chart a better path forward.

In addition to promoting more equitable funding and ensuring educators are compensated fairly, we must fully restore educators’ freedom to join together to bargain for fair contracts on a wide range of issues. It’s also crucial that we shift more decision-making power to the people who know the educational needs of each individual child best; the teachers and education staff who work with them every day.

Educators believe in the power of public education to help each child achieve their full potential, but their voices are too often ignored and derided in the decision-making process. 

While there will be no Labor Day parade today, elevating the voices of educators and other working people is as important as ever. Here at AFT Michigan, we’re ready to continue our fight to elevate the voices of educators across the state and secure a better future for our students.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.