Teachers’ unions are a significant political force across the nation. In Idaho, local education organizations (LEO) assume that role. LEOs around the state constantly tout their commitment to the education of students. However, make no mistake, their true interest is protecting the welfare of their members.
How do LEOs weld their political power? Specifically, how do LEOs gain the authority to negotiate with school districts on behalf of professional employees, which include teachers?
The answer can be found in Idaho State Statute. Idaho law lays out the powers of Idaho’s local education organizations to negotiate with the school districts on behalf of the district’s professional employees. However, some smaller districts join with other school districts during negotiations, other smaller districts simply do not have a LEO. Currently, there are no alternative local education organizations working in Idaho.
Chapter 33 section 1271 through 1276 of Idaho Statute states that the board of trustees of each school district shall enter into negotiations, for teacher salaries and the like, with local education organizations or the designated representatives of such organizations. Section 1271 does not allow a district’s board of trustees the option to enter into negotiations with local education organizations: it's required. Because state statute requires a district’s participation in negotiations, LEOs are able to force their will on teachers and other professional employees, rather than relying on the merit of the services they provide. A better option would be to change state statute to say that a district’s board of trustees “may” enter into negotiations.
In order to negotiate on behalf of teachers and other professional employees, LEOs must provide written evidence that they have acquired 50 percent plus one of signatures from the bargaining unit. (Professional employees include anyone who is certified by the school district, a bargaining unit refers to all of of professional employees in a group.) However, the process by which the LEOs must obtain the 50 percent plus one is not defined by state law. Often a LEO will gather signatures until it reaches the minimum required amount. Further, LEOs do not provide the freedom for professional employees to use secret ballots or any other method that would allow professional employees privacy in making their decisions. In some districts, the LEO uses bullying tactics to gain the required percent of signatures.
Most of the 115 school districts in Idaho have separate master contracts between their school boards and professional employees. Some smaller districts may not have a LEO but will combine with a larger district’s LEO during negotiations. For example, the LEO that represents the professional employees in Joint Bonneville School District 93 may also represents several rural schools within the same master contract. Because state statute does not prescribe the process by which local organizations must obtain the required percentage of signatures from professional employees there is a lack of standard district-to-district.
For example, Idaho Falls School Districts 91 and 93 have different master contracts but more importantly, neither school district’s master contracts defines how the LEO must collect the 50 percent plus one of required signature set out in state law. If the master contracts included the process for gathering the required signatures, the LEO would be more accountable to the professional employees they represent and school districts could ensure the LEO is adhering to state law.
In discussions with several teachers, administrators, school board members and local LEO members in Districts 91 and 93 there was no public information or real knowledge regarding how LEOs obtain the required signatures in order to negotiate on behalf of the professional employees.
LEOs lack of transparency in Districts 91 and 93 takes the power out of the hands of the professional employees they represent and gives it solely to the LEO. An alternative would be to allow professional employees the right to a secret ballot to determine whether or not they want the LEO to negotiate on their behalf. Additionally, there should be no confusion regarding how the LEOs have collected the required percentage of signatures that would provide them with the power to negotiate with school districts.
While Idaho State Law specifically requires school districts to negotiate with LEOs it does not prescribe how the LEO must collect 50 percent plus one of signatures. Additionally, state law requires written proof what they have gathered the required percentage of signatures. However, LEOs lack of transparency and no district-to-district standard strengthens LEOs powers. LEOs should feel comfortable providing district-by-district information that describes how each local organization obtains the signatures and complies with Idaho state law.
Until LEOs are able to produce proof to the school boards that they have gained the required signatures and, consequently, permission from the professional employees to represent them, a LEO should not be able to negotiate any master contract.