No Pay, No Work – Detroit Educator’s “Sickout” Protest


The national dialogue shifted earlier this month in regards to the two-day Detroit Teacher Sickout protest.

The national dialogue shifted earlier this month in regards to the two-day Detroit Teacher “Sickout” protest. On Monday May 2, 2016, 1,500 educators called out “sick” in protest, when they learned from the Teacher’s Union interim President, Ivy Bailey, that the district did not have enough money to continue paying teachers beyond June 30, 2016 – resulting in the closing of 94 (of the 97) Detroit Public Schools (DPS). Educators are head strong in bringing local and national attention to the matter at hand. Given that some teachers have elected to receive their paychecks throughout the year, union representatives argued that the newly announced financial shortage means those educators were in the midst of working without the guarantee of compensation. Union officials noted that two-thirds of Detroit teachers elected to receive paychecks throughout the year, not just during the academic year.

Teacher strikes are illegal in Michigan. In an effort to protest the ghastly conditions that educators argued they (as well as students) have been subjected to, DPS teachers have relied on the so-called sickout method — calling in “sick”, forcing schools to close. In January, teachers performed a sickout to protest the disturbingly unsanitary environments within the schools — including rat and roach infestations, black mold and falling ceiling panels — forcing the closure of dozens of schools. After the DPS district pursued legal action with regards to “sickouts,” the courts ruled in favor of the unions and agreed teachers could continue to protest in this way. Teachers say the deplorable conditions diminish their ability to effectively teach, consequently putting their students at a great disadvantage.

Michigan Governor, Rick Snyder’s office reported that the Detroit school system is in more than $500 million dollars of operating debt. Teacher salaries are the latest casualty of the financial crisis throughout the city of Detroit. With so much money going to pay down the debt, many of the school system’s facilities have fallen into disrepair.

Teacher salaries are the latest casualty of the financial crisis throughout the city of Detroit.

This has been one of the most boisterous academic years Detroit students have had to experience in a while. The protest has won widespread support among Michigan residents who sympathize with this unfortunate challenge. Steven Rhodes, the system’s state-appointed Emergency Manager called the teacher sickouts “drastic” and “unnecessary” but said he was sympathetic to the teachers’ predicament. DPS teachers have since returned to class on Wednesday May 4, 2016 after receiving assurances from the district that they would continue to be paid past June 30, 2016.

Teachers are charged with the responsibility of educating the minds of our youth who in return will someday lead our country in making impactful decisions. It is important they understand our appreciation and gratitude and do not feel devalued. Forty-thousand Detroit students and parents were affected having been out of school for those two days. Imagine if that led into a state-wide or national campaign — the detriment could have been ghastly. This story and several like it force me to ask the question, are we valuing our educators in the way that we should?

Jada Cash-WilsonJada Cash-Wilson is a Project Coordinator/Graduate Intern in the Department of Government & External Affairs and Community Impact and holds a BA in Political Philosophy. Before connecting with Wheelock, she worked as a Research Policy/Grant Analyst and liaison between the Mayor and City Council for a major city in the mid-west, and as a Legislative Aide for former U.S Senator Carl Levin. Jada aspires to someday make a positive difference in the world.