- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2011

LANSING, Mich. | Some Michigan lawmakers are reacting with anger to a threat by the state’s largest teachers union to strike over emergency financial manager legislation signed into state law last week.

Michigan Education Association President Iris Salters asked the state’s 1,100 union locals in a letter to call for a vote among their MEA members by April 14, giving the union the authority “to initiate crisis activities up to and including job action.”

“It is shameful for the union to put the union’s interests ahead of children and show disrespect for the parents in their districts who have seen their pay and benefits reset in our struggling economy,” said Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger, Marshall Republican, in a statement opposing the union threat.

“It is the height of arrogance for Ms. Salters, whose pay would be unaffected by a strike, to tell teachers they should risk their careers by participating in an illegal activity,” Mr. Bolger said.

State Rep. Bill Rogers, a Republican from Brighton, called on teachers from Livingston and Oakland counties in his district, to vote no “on this irresponsible request.”

“As we work out our state’s financial difficulties, we must work together and not take drastic measures, which are illegal, that will hard our children,” Mr. Rogers said in a statement.

Ms. Salters, in her letter Thursday, authorized by the MEA’s board of directors, called the legislation initiated by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder giving outside authority to take over municipalities that are in dire financial straits, an “attack” on teacher rights.

“You should only vote for this proposed resolution if you believe the legislative assaults are so severe that you are willing to risk the loss of pay, and possibly, the loss of your employment,” a question-and-answer portion attached to her letter warned union members.

Although teachers have gone on strike in Michigan previously, such an action by public employees is technically illegal, said Paul Kersey, the director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Mich.

But that doesn’t mean lawmakers or even parents should not pay attention to the threats of what the MEA letter describes as a possible work stoppage.

“I don’t think the Snyder administration or school boards can dismiss this as a bluff,” he said of the MEA’s letter, which asks locals to conduct “membership meetings and crisis votes” by April 15. The votes will be reviewed at a board meeting April 28.

“They are very well-financed and deeply entrenched in the school districts,” Mr. Kersey said of the union’s power in the state, noting the MEA raised $65.6 million in dues and agency fees in fiscal 2010 and operated with a $130 million budget.

Mr. Kersey said state unions are on notice in the wake of collective bargaining laws in Wisconsin and Ohio that have spurred massive protests. With Michigan’s emergency financial manager statute now in place, “these managers can set aside collective bargaining agreements,” something union leaders “are finding it very difficult to accept.”

Mr. Snyder, a business executive who took office in January and who is at work on the specifics of closing a budget deficit of $1.8 billion, is set to attend a national honor society induction ceremony at a Battle Creek high school Monday.

Ms. Salters, who joined labor supporters in a protest at the state capitol in Lansing last week, drew the ire of some by comparing the emergency manager legislation to slavery, noting that it is “again a way to say to labor, you don’t count. It’s a way to say to employees, get back. I believe it’s just like being in the slave days.”

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