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Hey Teachers! Let's talk about Decertification!
DECERTIFYING TEACHER UNIONS
UNIONISM IN AMERICA
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public education is one of the most unionized industries in America. This is particularly true of public school teachers. About 63 percent of all public school teachers are union members. This compares to 44 percent of public education employees and 37.5 percent of public employees.
In the private sector of the economy, even in heavily unionized industries, such levels of union activity are very rare. In fact, for the last fifty years fewer and fewer employees have sought union representation. In 1998, only 9.4 percent of all private sector employees were union members.
PUBLIC SECTOR BARGAINING LAWS
The rise in teacher unionism was aided by enactment of state laws compelling public agencies to grant unions monopoly bargaining privileges. Most compulsory public sector bargaining laws were enacted in the 1960s and 70s. The ranks of teacher unions grew dramatically during that time.
In the early 1970's the National Education Association, the nation's largest labor union, adopted a policy of "unified dues." Under this policy, teachers who wanted to belong to their local classroom teachers association were forced to also support the NEA and its state affiliate. Many teachers opposed this policy but in only one state, Missouri, was it successfully opposed.
DO TEACHERS REALLY WANT UNION REPRESENTATION?
Even though public education is very heavily unionized, there is considerable evidence that teachers aren't necessarily in favor of unionism.
Perhaps the best evidence is the way the NEA resisted identifying itself as a union for so many years. It has only been recently, during merger discussions with the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, that the NEA has flown full union colors. During the debate on merger some members of the NEA's Delegate Assembly expressed concern that if they merged with an AFL-CIO union, many members would quit and join a "professional educator" group. That's hardly a ringing endorsement of "unionism."
The "professional educator" organizations are much more compelling evidence that teachers don't want unionism. In states which haven't given unions monopoly bargaining privileges there are thriving, independent organizations of teachers. These teachers reject the adversarial, confrontational and monopolistic nature of unionism. Their organizations are fierce opponents of enactment of public sector bargaining legislation. In several states these organizations are larger than the NEA's state affiliate.
WHY IS PUBLIC EDUCATION SO UNIONIZED?
There are two rather obvious reasons why most teachers are union members.
The first is that most public education employees have never made a conscious choice about whether they wanted to be represented by a union.
As mentioned earlier, before the advent of unionism most teachers belonged to a local classroom teachers association, which they regarded as a professional association. The combined impact of the enactment of collective bargaining legislation and the NEA's unified dues policy was to co-opt most teachers into unions.
As a result, in most school districts the decision about union representation was made long ago, before many present employees got their jobs. For new teachers, union representation is the status quo. Most teachers don't realize that they have a choice about union representation.
Most public sector bargaining laws contain very loose standards under which public employers may grant unions recognition and monopoly bargaining status. Some allow such recognition to be solely on a request from a union. Others require a showing of interest of at least 30 percent of employees. Because most teachers and managers didn't fully appreciate the ways in which unionism and collective bargaining would change their relations with teacher organizations most recognition union was uncontested.
Management in public education frequently has political motives for not opposing unions without regard to the wishes of employees. This may have been much truer back in the 1960s and 1970s when teacher unions were initially being granted recognition. In those days unions had considerably more members and political influence. Politicians, and the managers they hired, couldn't afford to be perceived as "anti-union." As noted earlier, union influence has been in decline for many years.
As a result, even at the time teacher unions were gaining initial recognition many, if not most, bargaining units were captured by unions without a vote of the teachers involved.
In short, because of political considerations, most public school teachers have been cheated out of the right to make a choice about whether or not to be represented by a union.
Just as union representation was the status quo before most present teachers where hired, most decisions to acquiesce to union political influence and deny teachers a choice on union representation were made by politicians who are no longer in office.
Another factor in the high level of teacher unionism is that management in public education hasn't done a very good job of communicating with teachers about the problems and disadvantages of unionism.
Many managers fear that communications with teachers about the downside of unionism will result in the union filing an unfair labor practice charge. It's true that under most public sector bargaining laws it's illegal for a public employer to "interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of their rights" but the same thing applies to unions and that doesn't keep unions from promoting unionism. Why should it prevent management from honest communications with employees about the drawbacks of unionism?
Unfortunately, it seems as if the very threat of having an unfair labor charge filed is sufficient to prevent many public officials from engaging in open and honest communications with their employees about unionism.
Some public sector bargaining laws provide that the results of an election can be set aside if an employers' unfair labor practice has made a fair election impossible. Since it is virtually certain that any union faced with a decertification election will file unfair labor practice charges, no matter how baseless, as a precautionary measure, the less the employer has to do with it the better.
No matter how much communication takes place, any action aimed at decertifying a union as a representative ought to come from employees, not from employers.
NON UNION ALTERNATIVES
Any consideration of removing a union as a bargaining representative raises the question of the alternative.
Unfortunately, in states with monopoly bargaining laws most teachers and administrators can't imagine life without a union as a representative. Any effort to remove a union will be met with questions about "Who will represent you?"
The fact is that in a non-bargaining context there are many different ways for an organization to represent the interests of its members without engaging in collective bargaining. Most of these are far more constructive and positive than bargaining.
In some instances teachers have found that their problem wasn't with the bargaining process but with the outside interests of state and national union staff personnel. In several districts teachers have decertified their union representative in favor of bargaining representation by a local independent association.
Whether the alternative is non-bargaining representation by a professional association or bargaining representation by an independent association, a necessary step is to decertify the existing union as a representative.
PETITIONS FOR ELECTIONS
Every public sector bargaining law provides for petitions for elections by employees wishing to be represented by a union or asserting that the designated exclusive representative is no longer the representative of the majority of employees in the unit. Usually, such petitions must be signed by 30 percent of the employees in the bargaining unit.
These laws usually include some sort of window during which a decertification petition must be filed. These windows differ from state to state. A typical provision would be for the petition to be filed "no sooner than 120 days or later than 90 days before the expiration date of any collective bargaining agreement."
There are usually no time limits on the filing of the petition seeking representation when no collective agreement exists but a very narrow window of opportunity for employees who want to decertify a union. That makes the task of teachers wishing to rid themselves of a union more difficult than that of those seeking a union.
Teachers who are considering petitioning for an election to decertify a union must usually contact the state government agency responsible for such elections to obtain forms and instructions.
They should keep in mind, however, that many employees in these offices maintain close relations with union officials. As a result, word of their interest in a decertification election may reach union officials before the petitioning teachers even receive the forms and instructions.
Since a negative reaction can be anticipated from union officials to any effort to decertify a union, it would be advisable to do as much planning and organizing as possible before contacting the state agency.
Employees considering a decertification campaign can contact the Public Service Research Foundation for more information.FOR MORE INFORMATION