In 1934, in Grand Rapids, local unions of the American Federation of Teachers came together to enhance their power, and therefore, their effectiveness by exploring the idea of forming a state federation. On January 19, 1935 a meeting was convened in Ann Arbor to formally organize the Michigan Federation of Teachers and became the state affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers organized in 1916.
During our nearly 80 years we have grown into a state-wide federation with over ninety-five locals, and 35,000 members working in PreK-12 schools, charter schools, Intermediate School Districts, community colleges, universities, and one credit union. We continue to organize new members into the union with emphasis on tenure- and Nontenure-track faculty members and graduate employees from the higher education community, and teachers and staff from charter schools.
Recognizing the growing number of support staff joining our union, delegates to the 1992 convention voted to change the state federation’s name to the Michigan Federation of Teachers & School Related Personnel.
At the 2005 convention, in order to enhance our power by highlighting that whether national, state or local we are one union, the name was changed once more to AFT Michigan.
During the early years before collective bargaining, the MFT and our locals used every tool available to protect and enhance the rights and benefits of our members. In 1937 the MFT led the successful fight for a tenure law. At the local, state and national level the state federation was active politically. We used the courts. And most of all we informed and mobilized our members to fight for what should be our rights.
Thanks to the enormous support of the AFL-CIO’s private sector unions, including the UAW and Steelworkers, collective bargaining for public employees became law in Michigan in 1965.
Groundbreaking contracts were negotiated and improved upon over time. The fact is that many of the foundation rights and benefits our members enjoy today are the result of over forty years of hard work at the bargaining table, along with over seventy years in the political, legislative and legal arenas. And the backbone of all of our state federations work has always been and will always be an active membership.
While we bargain and defend contracts, are active politically and legislatively and organize for the benefit of our members, over the years we have become more and more involved with education issues, fighting for public education, and advancing what is best for the students, collectively we educate.
Recently the political and policy environment in Michigan has become increasing hostile to public education and public employees. We have lost some ground that previous generations fought so hard to get. Laws have been passed to make it more difficult for unions to work with their members, negotiate good contracts and ensure due process rights of employees. AFT Michigan has an incredible history, obviously much richer than noted here. We intend to honor this history and the women and men who made it happen by continuing to grow our union, mobilize our members and enhance our power so that by working together we can ensure a bright future for public education, higher education, and all education employees.
A book, The AFT in Michigan: A Brief History was produced for the union’s 75th anniversary in 2010.
It is available in hard copy through the AFT Michigan office. Please call 313-393-2200.