Members of the Michigan Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers met in Southfield and across the state Aug. 3 for a protest response to Gov. Rick Snyder’s announcement last month that he would appeal a June ruling by the Michigan Court of Appeals.
According to a news release from the MEA and AFT, both a trial court and, most recently, the Michigan Court of Appeals have struck down Public Act 75 of 2010 as unconstitutional.
PA 75 mandated that all school employees contribute 3 percent of their salary through an involuntary payroll deduction to fund retiree health care — a benefit they were not guaranteed to receive, the release said.
The law was in place from 2010 to 2012, and more than $550 million was taken from 200,000 school employees during that time. The money is currently being held in an interest-bearing escrow account pending an outcome to the case, which has been appealed by the state three times already.
A large group armed with picket signs gathered in front of Southfield High School, 24675 Lahser Road, at 10:30 a.m. for the protest. Following speeches from protest attendees, picketers took their efforts to the sidewalk in front of the school, along Lahser Road, to make their voices heard.
Beyond Southfield, school employees gathered in Detroit, Escanaba, Flint, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Marquette, Mount Pleasant and Traverse City to protest Snyder’s decision.
“This is an issue for more than 200,000 educators all over the state. They’re angry. They are owed thousands of dollars, and they’ve been waiting years for endless legal appeals,” said Doug Pratt, public affairs director for the MEA. “It’s time for the money to be returned to them, and we’re out today calling on Gov. Snyder to drop this latest frivolous appeal and to stop wasting taxpayer money on lawsuits that continue to be lost by the state.”
Southfield Public Schools Board of Education member Yolanda Charles, who is also a member of the AFT as a teacher at Wayne County Community College, attended the protest.
“It affects not only teachers on the ground, but it also affects school districts, which is why I felt it imperative to be here today, just to show my support. In fact, if we can continue to have coalitions and partnerships like this, it would be great,” Charles said.
Michael Graves, a paraprofessional at SPS for 29 years, was carrying a sign that said, “It’s our money.”
“I want the money that’s due to me, that’s rightfully mine,” Graves said. “It’s as if the governor has an animosity toward public school employees, and it’s just becoming unbearable.”
Sharon Thomas, who has been a teacher at Adler Elementary for 19 years, said she believes the issue is black and white.
“When you have people in the (Republican Party) saying this is wrong, it begs the question and I think for me, it’s not about my money — it’s about right and wrong,” Thomas said.
Both Thomas and Graves said the protest will not affect their students when it comes time to go back to school.
“One thing about educators: we never bring what has happened to us personally or indirectly into the classroom, because that is not appropriate,” Graves said.
“If money was the issue, I wouldn’t have gone out and spent $400 on supplies for my children. Money is not the issue — the issue is the legality,” Thomas said.
State Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, attended the protest, and said the issue hits close to home.
“I am the son of a public school teacher who was the MEA representative in her building. I’m a graduate of public high school here in our district, and I’ve just seen a continuing attack on public education from Lansing Republicans,” Moss said. “I think it’s at a breaking point that enough is enough.”