Research & Commentary: Michigan’s ‘Right to Teach’ Legislation

Published October 26, 2011

This year Michigan state lawmakers capped the amount school districts pay toward employee health care coverage (thus requiring school employees to pay part of their premiums), lengthened the time required for teachers to attain tenure, made it easier for schools to fire poorly performing teachers, required teacher evaluations based at least in part on student test scores, and gave local officials the authority to break union contracts and cut K-12 funding if necessary to meet budget projections.

The state’s largest teachers union, the Michigan Education Association, opposed all of these measures and initiated a recall against at least one lawmaker involved in passing them. On October 6, three state senators sponsored Senate Bill 0729, which would repeal a state law requiring public school employees to join unions as a condition of employment if their hiring school has signed agreements to that effect.

Because the bill applies only to unions with 50,000 or more members—and thus affects only the MEA—opponents characterize it as an attack on that union.

Defenders of individual rights argue the legislation should apply to all public employees or at least all public teachers unions, to make it more equitable and its benefits more widely available. Requiring union membership as a condition of employment, they say, reduces individuals’ ability to express dissent or alternative views about school conditions and contracts. It also takes teachers’ wages without their expressed consent and appropriates those wages for causes they may not support.

The following documents offer more information about Senate Bill 0729 and the right to teach.

‘Right to Teach’ Bill Debuts in Michigan Senate
A bill introduced in the Michigan Senate would prohibit public schools from making joining a union with more than 50,000 members a condition of employment, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports. The bill applies only to the largest union in the state, the Michigan Education Association. The MEA has vociferously opposed the state Republican leadership’s education reforms in this year’s legislative session, including backing a recall of one state senator.

Senate Bill 0729
The text of the “right to teach” bill introduced in Michigan, along with amendments, from the clerk of the Michigan Legislature. The act prohibits strikes by public school teachers, allows teachers to opt out of employee unions with more than 50,000 members, and restricts collective bargaining agreements.

Right to Work for Teachers on Agenda
Michigan will attempt to follow Indiana’s lead in eliminating a law requiring school employees to join unions, the Lansing State Journal reports. The Michigan Senate majority leader is quoted as saying this is the only way to keep the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, from blocking necessary changes to the state’s education system.

Initial ‘Right-to-Teach’ Bill Has Problems
Michigan legislation freeing teachers from forced unionization may backfire because it targets only the state’s largest teachers union, writes Paul Kersey for the Mackinac Center. The bill applies only to public school unions with more than 50,000 members, which describes only the Michigan Education Association. Suspicions of political payback increase the likelihood of negative press and resistance preventing from passage. Kersey also notes the MEA can avoid the bill’s restrictions by dividing into smaller groups.

Former MEA Local Prez: Union May Lose 40% of Members—Including Him—if Teacher Right to Work Passes
Based on teachers union membership in right-to-work states, the Michigan Education Association stands to lose some 40 percent of its membership if new “right to teach” legislation passes, reports Tom Gantert for the Mackinac Center. This is because some members will inevitably decide their $90 monthly dues aren’t worth the cost, said the president of an MEA local.

Editorial: Don’t Single Out Teachers
Revenge seems to have motivated recent “right to teach” legislation in Michigan, since it would decimate membership in the state’s largest teachers union after that union funded ads and recall campaigns against Republican lawmakers, argues a Detroit News editorial. Instead of attempting political payback, the paper opines, legislators should make “right to work” provisions apply to all state workers.

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the School Reform News Web site at, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland education policy research fellow Joy Pullmann, at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].