Idaho school labor unions, declining in power and membership, are now deploying Big Labor tactics to stay at the bargaining table, despite a state law many expected would curtail union power. Under a state law passed in 2013, labor unions are supposed to represent a majority of the professional employees in order to engage in collective bargaining with a school board.
But the law also allows the labor union swell its ranks with other non-union employees “for negotiations.” That means in school districts where the union represents a mere fraction of the professional employees, other non-union members are being asked to approve of having the union represent them in labor negotiations. Several are doing so using the “card check” page from the Big Labor playbook.
Card check is when labor unions ask employees to sign a card indicating they want to either join a union or, in this case, have the union represent them in negotiations. Labor unions and liberal politicians love card check because it lets union bosses know who is with the union and who is not. It’s easier and portends the outcome the union seeks. Opponents say card check is the union’s way of using intimidation; labor bosses know which employees are on board and which aren’t, allowing dissenters to be identified, cajoled or isolated. Card check is the most favored method for determining union representation in the state’s school districts, according to a survey conducted by the Idaho School Boards Association.
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In Meridian, the labor union represents a minority of employees. So West Ada School District spokesman Eric Exline says the union gets non-union members to sign cards agreeing to let the Meridian Education Association negotiate on their behalf, boosting the union’s representation to slightly more than half of the professional employees—enough to trigger negotiations.
Card check was also used in the Nampa School District. Former Nampa Education Association President Jaimee Hoesing said she doesn’t believe card check is a form of intimidation. She says it’s helpful.
“It’s not like the person hovers over them, but it is nice to have someone there if someone has a question,” Hoesing said. “We’ve never had anyone complain, and people are welcome to check ‘no.’” Very few do say no, she said.
The process is so goofy that some school districts—45 percent of those responding to the school boards association survey—simply stopped asking the labor union whether it represents a majority of professional employees. Bonneville Joint School District 93 in Idaho Falls is one of those.
“They only need to gather signatures of teachers that ‘allowed the Association to represent them,’” said Charles Shackett, the school superintendent. “Through the teacher signature process, the (Bonneville Education Association) is always able to demonstrate that they represent well over the statute requirement.” Some unions claim to represent more than 95 percent of employees.
Idaho lawmakers can easily fix this problem. The first step is to make sure non-union members aren’t being used to inflate the union’s numbers. A union with fragmented and minority membership shouldn’t be able to doctor its stats and claim to represent a majority of employees. The second is to make sure that school employees’ right to a secret ballot is protected. Professional educators shouldn’t be scrutinized and monitored when they’re choosing whether to back the union.
Union bosses know a lot of tricks to hang onto their diminishing power, and they’re using them right here in Idaho. They’ll continue to do so until the Idaho Legislature puts a stop to Big Labor’s shenanigans.