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The Associated Press September 9, 2011, 7:39PM ET

Senate leader wants right to work for teachers

The leader of the Michigan Senate announced Friday that Republican lawmakers will move to eliminate the state law requiring school employees to belong to unions, the latest GOP-led effort to weaken the power of organized labor in one of its longtime strongholds.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said Friday he doesn't support making Michigan a right-to-work state because it won't help the struggling economy.

But the Monroe Republican accused the Michigan Education Association of standing in the way of education improvements and said on public television's "Off the Record" program that the only way to change that is to eliminate laws requiring school employees to join unions, potentially crippling unions finances.

The measure faces an uncertain future. Although Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has never said he would veto right-to-work legislation if it got to his desk, his spokeswoman said Friday that the GOP governor is unlikely to back any move to allow public school teachers to avoid joining unions.

"He's been very clear that right to work isn't on his agenda. End of story," Sara Wurfel said.

Republicans in the House and Senate are angry the MEA has played a significant role in efforts to get a recall election on the November ballot for House Education Committee Chairman Paul Scott. The Grand Blanc Republican raised MEA leaders' ire by playing a key role in changing the state's teacher tenure policies and voting to cut education funding.

If a right-to-teach law makes it onto the books, Michigan would become only the second state in the country that applies right to work rules to teachers but not to other unionized workers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

While 22 states have right-to-work laws, the Education Commission of the States reports that Indiana's law is the only one that applies only to teachers. Michigan's law would cover all unionized school employees, including secretaries and janitors.

Under right-to-work laws, workers covered by union contracts aren't required to join unions or pay dues.

MEA President Steven Cook called Richardville "seriously misguided," saying his proposal was an attempt at "political payback." David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers' Michigan chapter, said the GOP proposal would do nothing to improve education.

"This proposal doesn't create jobs. It doesn't address barriers to student success. It doesn't reduce class size," Hecker said. "It is a personal attack on educators, nothing more -- just another example of the power grab by extreme, anti-union politicians looking to weaken middle class families by undermining worker's rights."

Richardville, who's married to an educator, said MEA leaders are out to protect their own highly paid jobs, not those of teachers. He talks to many teachers "tired of their union dues going to someone making $250 grand a year up in Lansing who doesn't even know what a classroom looks like any more," he said.

The right-to-teach effort is just the latest in an increasingly bitter clash between GOP lawmakers and the state's largest teachers union.

Republican legislators recently passed laws raising most teachers' health care costs by capping the amount that school districts can pay toward health care coverage. They also have lengthened the amount of time it takes for teachers to attain tenure, made it easier to get rid of poorly performing teachers, required teacher evaluations based at least in part on student test scores, given financial managers the right to break union contracts and cut K-12 funding.

The teacher unions have opposed most of that legislation. The MEA represents about 125,000 K-12 teachers and support staff, while AFT Michigan represents about 22,000.

Earlier this year, MEA leaders asked members to consider a statewide strike to show their unhappiness. The strike never took place. But teachers frequently joined other union members and seniors protesting the GOP-led changes at the Capitol.

State elections officials on Friday said recall proponents had gathered enough signatures to put the Scott recall on the ballot. The lawmaker is still fighting the recall in court.

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