Lawmakers Push to Make Teachers Unions Optional
Friday, January 27, 2012
Membership and dues in Rhode Island’s teachers unions would become optional under a piece of legislation introduced by State Senator Nicholas Kettle.
The legislation, which is sponsored by Glenford Shibley and Francis Maher, is the latest in a series of bills being introduced by lawmakers in states all over the country. On Tuesday, Indiana’s House of Representatives approved a similar bill that will make Indiana the first upper Midwest state to institute a “right to work” law.
Kettle, who is studying education at Rhode Island College, said making union membership optional would ultimately allow school districts to hire and retain teachers based on performance. His bill would put a non-binding referendum question on the state ballot as to whether union membership for teachers should be voluntary.
“Teachers in Rhode Island deserve a choice,” Kettle said. “The National Education Association (NEA) uses questionable tactics when dealing with our legislature, and this behavior undermines the very spirit of our education system, harming the reputation of many fine teachers and placing our children at the bottom of our priority list.”
Union Leaders Opposed
The bill is likely to face staunch opposition from teachers union leaders in the state. NEA government relations director Pat Crowley said the bill does little to help the middle class.
"As we see across the country State's with laws Senator Kettle wants to enact have lower standards of living and unhealthy levels of job safety protection,” Crowley said. “The irony is as some conservative politicians look to ease regulations on corporations, bills like this increase legal red tape for workers and unions. The results are always the same: more profits for the 1%, more work for the 99%."
Frank Flynn, President of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, said Kettle’s bill is simply another attempt to weaken organized labor.
“Sen. Kettle's bill is similar to a number of bills which are being submitted nationally by right wing, anti-union, ultra conservative groups like ALEC whose only goal is to eliminate the middle class by attempting to weaken organized labor,” Flynn said. “Collective bargaining gives teachers a voice in their profession. It is interesting that he is not going after organizations like the American Bar Association which is mandatory for all attorneys.”
All About Politics
Under current state law, teachers are required to be members of the teachers union. Kettle claims the dues teachers pay are often used for political campaigns.
“The NEA has a mission to protect traditional non-performance based salaries, large unsustainable benefit packages and job security for all – even those that fail children,” Kettle said. “The current union membership practices simply do not support excellence in education.”
Lisa Blais, who heads up the Ocean State Tea Party in Action, agreed with Kettle. She said it all goes back to politics.
“Our public school teachers are mandated, by law, to pay union dues or agency fees as a condition of employment. Teacher unions may state that a reduced amount might be imposed for the cost of representing its mandated membership at the bargaining table,” Blais said. “Either way, mandated payments as a condition of employment removes the freedom of choice for our public school teachers while utilizing their money to advance the political goals of the unions; goals that many of its members may not support.”
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