Testimony before the Commerce and Labor Committee, Ohio House of Representatives, in Opposition to Senate Bill 5 Wednesday, March 16, 2011 Chairman Uecker, Ranking Minority Member Yuko, and members of the Committee, I want to thank you for this opportunity to meet with you on the topic of public employee collective bargaining. I presently serve the 33,000 members of the North Eastern Ohio Education Association as their Executive Director, and I have had the opportunity to meet some of you in connection with my work there. Before my employment by NEOEA, I was a teacher and local union president in two school districts in northeastern Ohio, both before and after passage in 1983 of Ohio’s present Collective Bargaining Law, and it is about those experiences that I would like to talk with you today. What I observed over and over again as a local president is that students are best served by teachers who can be creative, courageous, and enterprising, and that strong unions, due process rights, and effective evaluation procedures are the best way to encourage those qualities. In the school year 1976-77, I was president of a teachers union in southeastern Cuyahoga County. Presidents served for a year as president-elect before serving a year as president. Teachers and the Board had a Memorandum of Understanding which functioned as a Collective Bargaining Agreement, and we periodically negotiated amendments to its terms. In the spring of 1977, the school district had a large renewal levy scheduled on the May ballot, and in April, 72 of my members were nonrenewed. In those days, limited-contract teachers could be nonrenewed without the employer stating any reasons. It was widely assumed that the reason for the nonrenewals was financial uncertainty due to the pending levy and that the nonrenewed teachers would be rehired if the levy passed, but neither the school administration nor the Board would say that for the record. That refusal led to speculation that finances weren’t the only reason for the nonrenewals. The layoffs had nothing to do with seniority: more senior teachers were laid off while less senior, identically-licensed teachers were retained. Comparisons of administrative observations and evaluations established that teaching quality was not a factor. What was clear was that while the school district had nonrenewed about one-third of the teaching staff, the superintendent had selected all of my officers and about three-quarters of my Executive Committee for nonrenewal. We believed then, and I believe now, that the nonrenewals were a reprisal for union activity. Even though strikes in those days were illegal, our members set a strike date. The strike was averted when the president-elect and I met with the superintendent and hammered out an agreement in which the Board identified finances as the reason for most of the nonrenewals and provided a guarantee that they would be rehired if the levy passed. The levy did pass, and 70 of my teachers were rehired. The president-elect and I were not rehired, and each of us eventually found teaching positions elsewhere. Ladies and gentlemen, I recount these events not to rehash an old war story, but to draw some lessons from it.
- First: Domination and intimidation of union leaders resonates throughout a staff. Our dismissal for union activities was standard operating procedure, not an isolated incident. Reprisals made that school system a fearful place, and teachers worked in an atmosphere of coercion and reprisal.
- Second: A system that puts unchecked authority in the hands of one party is ripe for abuse. I don’t say that all supervisors, principals, and superintendents are vindictive; but experience teaches us that all people make mistakes and many people can be vindictive, and unilateral authority invites abuse. I suspect that few of us have ever seen a party to any relationship who could be neutral about disputes in that relationship.
- Third: Clearly identified and mutually agreed-upon systems of due process, retention, transfer, and dispute resolution protect all the parties and make schools better places. While Senate Bill 5 does not completely eliminate collective bargaining for teachers, it would weaken unions as effective advocates for teachers.
- Fourth: The working conditions of teachers become the learning conditions of their students. Intimidated, nervous, fearful people may be easy to manage, but they aren’t likely to be courageous, innovative, creative teachers, and their students pay the price. My president-elect and I moved on in 1977, but we left behind a school system in which morale was poor for both teachers and students.
Ladies and gentlemen, I do not argue that collective bargaining practices in Ohio are perfect. What I do respectfully suggest is what I have always seen at the negotiating table: that the best remedy for the problems of collective bargaining is not less bargaining, but more. Thank you for your kind attention.