Michigan Considers Teacher-Empowering Payroll Reform, Like Colorado Did in 2008

Business Week features a brief story about a piece of legislation under consideration in the Michigan legislature:

A proposal that would prohibit public schools from automatically deducting union dues from employee paychecks is advancing in the Michigan Legislature.

The Republican-led House Oversight, Reform and Ethics Committee approved the measure Tuesday with a party line 4-2 vote. The measure advances to the House floor.

An email blast from the Education Action Group Foundation explains how this sort of proposal can help make unions more accountable to the members they serve:

We’ve long believed that the union leadership’s bare knuckled political tactics don’t represent the views of many [Michigan Education Association] members, who care primarily about helping students. But these teachers have little control over how their union operates, given that union dues are automatically taken out of their paychecks.

If that practice were to stop, both the taxpayers and the union leadership would get a true sense of how many rank-and-file educators actually support their union and its progressive political agenda.

We suspect support for the MEA is significantly overstated.

House Bill 4929 tries to achieve a similar objective to Colorado’s Amendment 49, which was defeated on the ballot in 2008. (Nonetheless, in the months leading up to that election, 16 local Colorado governments — including 12 counties — made similar “Ethical Standards” proposals an official policy.)

The Michigan legislation has drawn some criticism for explicitly and directly stopping government payroll deductions for “labor organizations” but not other groups like the United Way or scholarship funds. A 2008 Independence Institute issue backgrounder on Amendment 49 explains the crucial difference here, and another key argument in support of the reform being pursued in Michigan:

The primary argument for Amendment 49 is that it eliminates a major conflict of interest. Proponents say government should not be able to transfer money to politically active groups that use the same money to influence the officials who represent that government. [emphasis added]

Whether it’s legally and politically preferable to specifically single out “labor organizations” as Michigan’s HB 4929 does, or to define more carefully in terms of ethical standards what governments can deduct (as the Amendment 49 language did) is a debate for another day. The important point to contemplate about what Michigan is attempting is that this type of payroll reform promotes good government and empowers individual teachers.

All the more reason for Colorado’s local governments, school boards and state policy makers to revisit the issue in the near future.