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Letter to the Editor: Birmingham Teachers Union President Urges 'Yes' Vote on Prop 2

"It would be fair to conclude that during this time, collective bargaining has served the district very well," says Birmingham Education Association president Scott Warrow.

This letter was received by Birmingham Patch local editor Laura Houser.

The current Birmingham Board of Education has said time and again to its teachers and other employees that it values collective bargaining and discussion as way to resolve issues and get things done in this district. Even past Birmingham Boards of Education have expressed similar sentiments, dating all the way back to 1928, almost 85 years ago, when the first contractual settlement took place between the newly formed Birmingham Education Association and the Birmingham Public School district. 

Collective bargaining and cooperative negotiation has been a bedrock of Birmingham Public Schools since its inception. And in recent times, it has proven to be a peaceful and valuable way to work cooperatively during tough times.

In light of such a tradition of collaboration, it is important that we recognize the actual results that collective bargaining has provided to our students, and not be swayed by the unfounded hypothetical hyperbole shown in recent political ads. Over the last five years, the six unions that are represented in Birmingham have all made significant pay and insurance financial concessions through collective bargaining to help save the school district money in times of need. Moreover, given our history as a lighthouse district for attracting top-notch educators and providing outstanding educational service to families in Birmingham, it would be fair to conclude that during this time, collective bargaining has served the district very well.

But now, the existence of that very process, which we have valued in this school district is being stripped away by the present government in Michigan. The legislature has already passed no less than ten laws since January of 2010 that have ruled out many aspects of teaching that educators value, prohibitive subjects of bargaining. Furthermore, a recent court decision, interpreting these new laws, has determined that it is “illegal” for a member of the teaching staff to even talk about some these issue with the Board of Education. And those who follow the political winds in Lansing know that dozens more anti-public educator, anti-collective bargaining bills sit waiting to be voted on in the next legislative session this November.

So when asked why we educators support Proposition 2 and the constitutional right to collectively bargain, it is not because we want to add something more to what we have had the right to do in the past. It is not because we want to eliminate laws that benefit kids and have nothing to do with collective bargaining in the first place. And it is not because we want to take power away from school districts or the state government to make reasonable and good laws to educate students in Michigan; in fact, we agree with and have supported the authority of Birmingham Public Schools to hire and maintain the highly effective teaching staff it has. The reason we believe in the constitutional protection of collective bargaining is because we want to restore the right to have a legal dialogue with the school district about what is best for teaching and learning in this district.   

Even the Michigan PTA, representing over 60,000 parents, recognizes the importance of making collective bargaining a part of our state constitution. In its endorsement of Proposal 2, PTA President Shaton Berry writes: “Collective bargaining and the right to unionize are not issues that affect only a small portion of the population, they impact everyone….When we remove the voices of these respected professionals from decisions that affect all of us, society as a whole loses." 

The mission of the Birmingham Education Association is and always will be to advocate the best possible education for our students and the best possible working conditions for our staff. Collective bargaining is the means by which we always have and want to continue to fulfill this mission.

Scott Warrow
President, Birmingham Education Association

The viewpoints in this letter are those of the writers, and Patch is not responsible for any ideas portrayed as facts. For questions and clarifications, please leave a comment below or contact local editor Tim Rath at tim.rath@patch.com or 248-622-7994.

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