MARQUETTE - As people from across the state were gearing up Monday for a battle over right-to-work legislation, area students gathered in the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Services Agency offices to learn about the collective bargaining process.
The High School Collective Bargaining Workshop is an annual event hosted by MARESA and the U.P. Labor Management Council that takes a group of high school students and turns them into labor and management for a mock company.
The students must work to negotiate a contract that is suitable for both sides.
Negaunee High School student Whitney Hilde, left, listens as fellow Negaunee student Brock Weaver, representing labor, negotiates with management over a contract. Students from across Marquette and Alger counties converged in Marquette Monday to take part in the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Services Agency and U.P. Labor-Management Council Inc. High School Collective Bargaining Workshop. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
Marquette attorney Laura Katers Reilly said the topic of Michigan right-to-work legislation came up in her group as they discussed their case study, which offered information on comparable wages in other similar mock companies based out of southern states. Reilly said many southern states have already enacted right-to-work laws.
"We talked about the effect those laws would have on the bargaining power of a union, relatively speaking, and we talked about why the stakes are so high for both sides in the right-to-work legislation being debated right now in our state," Reilly said Monday. "You could see the light bulbs go off in their heads too when we had that discussion, and they said 'Oh, that's what that's all about. One person said 'My dad was talking about right-to-work last night,' so it brought it home to them I think in a very real way."
Reilly, who is president of the U.P. Labor-Management Council, has been involved with the high school collective bargaining workshops for three years.
The workshops take place across the Upper Peninsula, teaching high school students how the collective bargaining process works.
Sandy Meyskens, a consultant for MARESA and an organizer of the event, said the students invited to attend are participants in some form of career technical education, from welding to cosmetology and everything in between.
"One of the goals of the instructors is to add a real-world component onto their teaching, so this is offered to our CTE teachers first," Meyskens said Monday. "We want to teach the soft skills that students are probably going to find in their future in some way, shape or form. Maybe not to the extent that they're doing today, maybe they won't be in a union, but they will be in a career where they're going to have to negotiate for their wages or their benefits, vacation time. Those are all things that, when you apply for a job, are asked in interviews, so career technical education tries to make that connection between school and the world of work and business."
Negaunee High School student Brock Weaver and Marquette Senior High School student Danielle Nestor found themselves on opposite sides of the table Monday, as Weaver was the head negotiator for his labor team and Nestor was the head negotiator for her management team.
As talks began, both sides had definite ideas of what they wanted in terms of wages, health benefits and vacation time. But as the negotiating continued, it became clear both sides were going to have a give in a little to reach an agreement.
Nestor said she enjoyed learning about the collective bargaining process and had fun meeting new people to discuss something she doesn't typically talk about - labor/management relations.
"It's actually kind of fun, talking about these topics with people you don't know," Nestor said.
Weaver said it was nice to gain a full understanding of a process that isn't a part of his daily life.
"It's a good experience," Weaver said. "I especially like getting to meet new people and whatnot. You just learn about something you really have no experience with. In my life, I mean, I'm 18 years old. How often have I had to collectively bargain?"
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.