House panel OKs tougher teacher strike penalties

The House Education Committee today passed House Bill 4466, legislation to penalize labor unions that represent striking teachers.

Under the bill, if one or more public school employees strike, their union would be kicked out for five years. A school superintendent or parent could report any strike activity – and, if enacted, a union could be decertified even if no actual strike occurred.

The bill would make it illegal for a union or union representative to “solicit or encourage” any public employee to strike or to “conspire” to cause a strike, even if they didn’t actually engage in a work stoppage.

The MEA Board of Directors last month passed a motion to ask members statewide for authority to initiate crisis activities up to and including job action. The move was a response to the legislative crisis in Lansing.

Rep. Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc, the sponsor of the legislation, said a majority of legislators on the GOP-controlled House Education Committee believe MEA is the “most culpable” for crisis actions around the state.

Scott also threatened legal action against MEA, saying he had talked with the attorney general’s office and “I will be turning over this information to law enforcement.”

The House committee also took additional testimony on House Bill 4241 to repeal teacher tenure. No vote was taken.

Controversial figure Michelle Rhee this week wrote to Republicans on the committee to urge their support for eliminating tenure. In her letter, Rhee said “tenure policies serve to keep teachers in the classroom regardless of the academic progress their students make.”

Today, three teachers and a principal from the Portage school district and the superintendent of Adrian Public Schools, testified about tenure. They asked lawmakers to consider changes to tenure instead of eliminating it.

Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, said the tenure discussion needs to focus on kids and parents, not teachers.

“Is it always going to be perfectly fair? Maybe not,” he said. “But we work for the taxpayers and the children. And we want to make sure that we service them the best. It’s going to have to be streamlined. It’s going to have to be aggressive.”