Michigan School Boards Fall Down on Contract Bargaining

Published February 1, 1999

In negotiating collective bargaining agreements, far too many Michigan school districts have abandoned their obligations to protect employees’ constitutional rights, according to a recent Mackinac Center study. In so doing, they have conferred dangerous powers and privileges on the unions at the expense of teachers, children, and taxpayers.

The study, by attorney La Rae G. Munk, a former public school teacher and labor union president, recommends that school board members make unions more accountable, teachers more responsible, and education more productive.

After analyzing the collective bargaining agreements between teacher unions and all of Michigan’s 583 school districts, Munk reports the following in her study, Collective Bargaining: Bringing Education to the Table:

  • More than 95 percent of teacher labor contracts base teacher salaries not on performance but on seniority.
  • Most contracts require tenured teachers to be evaluated only once every three years.
  • More than half of the contracts establish class size maximums.
  • All contracts require school employees to pay union dues without properly informing them of their right not to join a union and not pay union dues.

“School board members must approach the bargaining table with the same determination, skill, and understanding exhibited by the unions’ full-time, professional negotiators,” said Munk. “This study will help them negotiate contracts that allow administrators to direct maximum resources to the classroom and create a more professional and rewarding place for teachers.”

Munk recommends that school boards bargain with unions to modify eight provisions found in the majority of contracts. School boards should seek to strengthen management rights to give more control to administrators, eliminate clauses that force school employees to pay union dues, and allow competitive bidding for costly teacher health benefits. A copy of the study has been sent to all 4,200 Michigan school board members.

La Rae G. Munk’s August 1998 report, Collective Bargaining: Bringing Education to the Table, is available from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 140 West Main Street, P.O. Box 568, Midland, MI 48640, 517/631-0900. The report also is available at www.mackinac.org.