McNeilly: Stand up to Detroit teacher sickouts

Greg McNeilly

Callous. Premeditated. Disgraceful. Unacceptable.

There are a lot of words that could describe the recent and escalating series of teacher strikes in the city of Detroit, but one word might sum them up best.

Criminal. And if the adults in Detroit aren’t willing to stand up for kids, the adults in Lansing should.

Last spring, professional union activists and agitators from the Detroit Federation of Teachers launched a series of premeditated, organized work stoppages in the Detroit Public Schools designed to intentionally hurt kids as part of some quixotic quest to “teach Lansing a lesson.”

Teacher strikes are illegal in Michigan, with penalties for lawbreakers including fines and possible termination. That hasn’t stopped the local teachers union from running over kids’ futures.

They shut down 18 schools last April, then they closed seven more in December. They shut out more than 6,000 students the first week of January. Days later they walked out on students at 64 schools, putting the overwhelming majority of the District’s 46,325 students out of their classrooms and onto the streets.

The illegal strikes haven’t stopped, with every missed day setting kids in Detroit further behind.

Tragically, not a single one of the so-called “leaders” in Detroit has been willing to stand up for them.

The local school board has been complicit in their silence. The Detroit Public School District, whose job it is under current law to hold these lawbreakers accountable, hasn’t lifted a finger to help. DPS’ emergency manager and Mayor Mike Duggan (who covets the political support of the culpable union activists) haven’t done a thing to get teachers back in the classroom, and Michigan’s Superintendent of Public Education is nowhere to be found.

Detroit bureaucrats won’t act, so Lansing must. A handful of common sense reforms could make all the difference for tens of thousands of kids who are being used, neglected, and mistreated by an activist union and a broken education system — and make sure that what’s happening in Detroit today doesn’t happen anywhere else tomorrow.

First, decertify the Detroit Federation of Teachers. DFT leaders have repeatedly convinced and encouraged rank-and-file members to break the law and to turn their backs on kids. When a union openly, actively, and aggressively, encourages criminal activity that union should disappear. And if we’re going to decertify the union, let’s decertify the teachers who walk out on kids, too.

Second, the legislature should dramatically strengthen Michigan’s anti-strike law. Double the fines union members face for breaking the law, and rather than fining the union $5,000 for each day their members strike, make it $5,000 per member, per day. That’ll make even the most callous union bullies think twice before breaking the law.

Speed up the penalty process, too. Currently, teachers who break the law have up to 60 days before they face a disciplinary hearing. Cut that window to five days.

Finally, it’s time to take the exclusive authority to initiate strike penalties away from the local bureaucrats and politicians who depend on the political favor of the unions they’re tasked with policing. Detroit Public Schools now has the right to initiate penalties. Give parents whose children the union is attacking that right, too. Then watch the difference it makes in the union’s behavior.

Lansing never asked the Detroit Federation of Teachers to threaten the future, academic or physical well-being of Detroit kids. Lawmakers didn’t pick this fight. But with 46,000 kids’ futures on the line, they should finish it.

Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.