Union membership has steadily declined in Michigan for several years.
In 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau’s statistics, the number of union members decreased from 15.2 percent to to 14.4 percent. Teacher unions are no exception.
The Michigan Education Association, one of the biggest school employee unions in the state, is seeing their numbers decline.
David Crim, spokesman of the MEA, said their numbers drop each year. A number of factors play into this.
One of those reasons, Crim said, is the Right-to-Work law.
Right-to-Work, effective since 2013, prohibits union security agreements between the unions and their companies.
Before Right-to-Work, employees who worked in school districts or schools that were unionized were compelled to join a union. Now, they are not.
Crim stressed that Right-to-Work is not the sole issue responsible for the decline of union membership.
Another reason why the number of union members in the state is decreasing is because the population of student-aged children is declining. As the birth rate goes down, so does the rate of pay per child, which means less money.
A big factor, said Crim, is retirement.
“As teachers retire, districts aren’t replacing them due to budget concerns and less funding from the state,” said Crim.
Stemming from that is also having less teachers to replace them.
Enrollment is down around 40-50 percent in colleges of education across the state in the last 8 years.
“It’s the single largest decline the MEA has seen to date,” said Crim.
“Attacks on wages, benefits and pensions are a major problem coming out of college and going to work because students then can’t pay off loans and food and rent and whatever else they need to pay,” he said.
The over-reliance on standardized testing is also a cause for disillusionment.
“These students come out of school with great ideas and lesson plans they want to implement that they can’t because they have to prepare and teach to the standardized tests which have gotten out of hand,” said Crim. “But they have no choice. As much as half of their evaluation depends on standardized test scores.”