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Empower teachers, not special interests

Empower teachers, not special interests

Lindsay Russell Dexter
December 22, 2016

Imagine going to your polling place to vote and stepping past the cardboard divide that  insures your privacy is a member of your political party to watch you fill out your ballot. More than uncomfortable, you would feel like your rights were being trampled on. 

This is, sadly, what teachers and other education professionals must endure when they provide their signatures to local education organizations, the chapters or close affiliates of the Idaho Education Association, the state’s teachers union.

Why are educators denied the same election integrity when they authorize a LEO to represent them as they are afforded during any other election?  

The answer can be found in Chapter 33-1271 of the Idaho state statutes, which lays out the powers of all local education organizations to negotiate with the school districts on behalf of the bargaining unit.

This chapter obligates LEOs to provide written evidence they have gotten the signatures of 50 percent plus one member of the school district’s bargaining unit, but only if a school district requests the information.

Perhaps most concerning, there is no provision within the law prescribing how a LEO must acquire the requisite signatures. This is how LEOs deny the members of bargaining unit the right to vote in privacy.

Many districts use something called a ‘card check’ system to gather the required signatures. LEOs distribute postcards and require bargaining unit members to provide their names, a date, their school and signatures.

Card check lacks privacy, accountability and transparency. The system exposes employees to potential manipulations, bullying and retaliation from LEOs. Some education employees sign their cards just to minimize conflict with LEO organizers. No neutral third party is provides any oversight to insure accuracy and confidentiality.

LEOs determine who receives a card, who collects the cards, and who reports the results to the school board when the board requests it. Bargaining unit members have no alternative organization to vote for. LEOs have by state law exclusive bargaining power to represent everyone in the bargaining unit, regardless of whether an individual wants them to or not.

All is not lost. The Idaho legislature has the authority to reform the unscrupulous law to empower teachers and other professional school employees.  An alternative would insure fair and transparent union representation elections. That would give school employees the chance to elect their negotiations representation in a manner that reflects the workforce at a given time. And would allow educators to select from a variety of representation choices.

The right of professional employees to cast a private ballot to determine who may negotiate on their behalf is a core value for self-governance in Idaho. The legislature should prioritize empowering teachers rather than LEOs.

The legislature should start by eliminating the card check.

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