Education unions rally at Capitol, Michigan House stays in session past midnight

David Hecker, AFT Michigan president, and Paula Herbart, MEA president, lead an educators rally at the Capitol in Lansing on Dec. 12, 2018 | Ken Coleman

As the Michigan Legislature considered a slew of Republican-sponsored education and labor bills, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Michigan and the Michigan Education Association rallied on the grounds of the state Capitol Wednesday evening and later lobbied lawmakers inside the building.

“It’s a partisan power grab that tells Michigan voters, ‘We don’t care what you think. We don’t care how you vote. We don’t care who you want to lead the state.’ So it’s incredibly important that we are out here tonight,” said David Hecker, AFT Michigan president.

Lakia Wilson, Detroit Federation of Teachers vice president, addresses the protest on Dec. 12, 2018 | Ken Coleman

The organizations, which represent public school educators throughout the state, are fighting to defeat several GOP bills that are expected to reach full House and Senate chambers for votes before the two-year session ends this month. As the Advance reported, the rally is part of a busy week of activity for education unions.

This also wasn’t the first protest against Lame Duck at the Capitol Wednesday. In the afternoon, progressive groups held the “Fight for Our Families Rally.”

The House, which started meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, is still in session early this morning. The chamber is set to plow through several bills, including an A-F grading system for schools, new rules for petition drives and extending the ban on the abortion pill from being prescribed via telemedicine.

Michigan Capitol | Michael Gerstein

The marathon House session ensures that legislation can move to the Senate for consideration next week, the last scheduled days of legislative action this year, under Michigan’s five-day rule.

“We’re not stopping,” said MEA President Paula Herbart Wednesday night. “We’re not stepping down. We’re not stepping back. We are not going away. We need to make sure that they [lawmakers] know that we are a positive force for democracy.”

AFT Michigan and the MEA oppose House Bill 5526, sponsored by Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw Twp.), which would require A-F letter grades for schools based heavily on standardized test scores, among other factors.

As the Advance reported, the bill would create a new commission to oversee the process. A majority of members to the commission would be appointed by term-limited GOP Gov. Rick Snyder. The commission, unions argue, would undercut the elected State Board of Education, which would have no oversight.

Tim Kelly

The panel also would not be accountable to the next governor, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, or the state Department of Education. Kelly says the moves are necessary.

“The state board is not doing their jobs,” Kelly told Bridge last week. “It’s time to move forward.”

Other bills unions oppose include:

  • SB 1260, sponsored by Sen. Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive), would require public workers to vote every other year on a union to represent them.
  • HB 6474, sponsored by Rep. Steve Johnson (R-Wayland), would prohibit local school districts and unions from jointly negotiating to include paid union release time in collective bargaining agreements.
  • HB 5368, sponsored by Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Twp.), would prevent public school employees from having union work count toward their retirement pensions.
  • HB 4163, sponsored by Rep. Daniela Garcia (R-Holland), would ban collective bargaining over school calendar and schedule.
Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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