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Lawmakers debate penalties for illegal teacher strikes

Noah Smith

Michigan lawmakers debated today whether teachers should face more stringent penalties if they were to participate in an illegal strike.

The state House Education Committee heard testimony for and against a bill that would revoke teachers' licenses for at least two years if they went on strike.

Republicans claim that the law needs to be strengthened to act as a successful deterrent. Democrats claim the measures punish too severely and and also unfairly, compared to other public employees.

Greg Baracy, superintendent for the Wayne-Westland Community Schoolsdistrict, testified in favor of the stricter bill; his teachers went on a 4-day strike in 2008.

But David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers - Michigan, says strikes like that are rare. And he says teachers shouldn't lose their careers over a strike:

"This has nothing to do with preventing strikes, because they already really don't happen. This is just another attack on teachers and education employees."

This debate occurs as the possibility of an actual statewide teacher strike looms.

The Detroit Free PressReports:

The legislation comes on the heels of concerns that the Michigan Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, might call a statewide strike in response to proposed cuts to schools and new rules that allow emergency managers to terminate collective bargaining agreements. The MEA asked its local members to vote on whether to authorize the MEA to implement job actions that could include a strike. Lawmakers today heard testimony from Greg Baracy, the superintendent in the Wayne-Westland Community Schools, where teachers went on strike for four days in 2008. “There must be stronger language in the law to prevent a travesty like this from ever happening again,” Baracy said. Some on the committee questioned the stiff penalties, wondering whether a one- or two-day strike should result in the loss of a teacher's license. “We’re making teachers out to be felons. Felons get less time ... than what we're talking about," said Rep. Douglas Geiss, D-Taylor. Rogers, one of the bill sponsors, countered that teachers’ blatantly disregarding the law “is an extremely poor message to send to kids.” Rep. Thomas Stallworth, D-Detroit, said the legislation is an "over-dramatization of a problem." He said lawmakers shouldn't be reacting to "conversations and letters and Facebook postings." He said given the most recent teacher strike was in 2008, "I'm not sure this is as big a problem as we're making it, quite frankly."

Currently, it is illegal for teachers to strike in the state of Michigan.

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.
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