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Whitmer expands teacher union rights, critics say it sets back students

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sitting for an interview
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a series of education bills Wednesday including one that expands teacher unions’ bargaining rights and one that makes it easier for an out-of-state teacher to work in Michigan. (Bridge photo by Rod Sanford)
  • Whitmer signed House Bill 4354 which allows teacher unions to bargain over placement decisions 
  • She also signed bills making it easier for teachers and school counselors from other states to work in Michigan
  • House Minority Leader Matt Hall said expanding teacher bargaining rights ‘gives union bosses power over public schools’

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a series of education bills Wednesday that expand teacher union bargaining rights and aim to make it easier for out-of-state teachers to work in Michigan.

Whitmer signed House Bill 4354 which allows unions and districts to bargain over what classes teachers teach, how teachers are evaluated and several other items.


Democrats have framed the bill as a way to increase teachers’ voices in key school district decisions. 


But Republicans and several school groups opposed the measure, saying it gives too much power to teachers unions and would lead to a system where education decisions are based on teacher seniority rather than what’s best for students. Such a system, they said, could disincentivize new, or less experienced teachers from staying in the field.

Another bill signed by Whitmer, House Bill 4820, modifies when teacher seniority could be used in school decisions. Teacher seniority will not be allowed to be the “sole factor” when making teacher placement decisions. 

“This legislation will build on our efforts to recruit and retain the talented educators that provide Michigan students with a phenomenal education,” Whitmer said in a news release announcing several education bill signings.

House Minority Leader Matt Hall, R-Richland Township, criticized Whitmer’s decision to sign the union-related bills. He said Democrats are “giving union bosses free rein to lord over the most important decisions at our schools.”

“Teacher placement, performance evaluations, and communication with parents are all vital to creating an effective learning environment and fostering good working relationships with families. These calls shouldn’t be made by self-serving union bosses. They should be made by administrators and elected school boards who answer to parents and the local community.”

While groups representing school districts and administrators criticized House Bill 4354, school groups are supportive of Senate Bills 161 and 162, which are tied to efforts to recruit more teachers to Michigan. The bills, which received wide bipartisan support, would make it easier for out-of-state teachers and school counselors to work in Michigan.

“We are delighted that the legislature has passed, and the governor has signed into law, these two regulatory relief initiatives recommended by MDE to help veteran educators from out of state become Michigan educators more quickly,” State Superintendent Michael Rice said in the news release. 


“While we successfully recruit and certify more than a thousand educators a year who are initially certified outside of Michigan and subsequently in the state, these new laws will permit more rapid hiring of veteran, out-of-state educators, which will benefit districts across the state and particularly those in communities close to other states.” 

In other labor-friendly education measures, Whitmer signed House Bill 4044, which repeals a requirement that school districts freeze compensation when a collective bargaining agreement ends. The governor also signed House Bill 4233, which allows a public school employer to deduct union dues from an employee’s paycheck. 

And Whitmer signed Senate Bill 359, which removes requirements of what Detroit Public Schools Community District must consider when determining employee pay for those hired after September 2019. 

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