As readers of this blog will know, I had the opportunity this week to give testimony on behalf of NEOEA to the Ohio House Commerce and Labor Committee for public employee collective bargaining, and against Senate Bill 5. (That testimony appears here.)Sometimes what appears to be a curse is actually a blessing. I don’t wait particularly well, and before delivering my testimony I needed to wait while several others delivered theirs. Members of the committee questioned several of the witnesses: always respectfully, but sometimes clearly in sympathy with the witnesses’ positions and sometimes not. I was struck by the number of items I heard delivered as fact that are simply incorrect. Some of these whoppers were told by witnesses, but some were passed on by members of the Committee, whom one would expect to be more knowledgeable.These errors have clouded the debate concerning Senate Bill 5, and I took the opportunity last night to point them out in an email to the Committee. Error 1: “Union dues are used to support candidates.” To do so would be illegal. Unions do have access to member PAC contributions, but those PACs consist of voluntary contributions. Error 2: Unions enjoy “forced membership.” Forcing membership would be illegal; charging an agency fee is not. Those who refer to “forced membership” almost never refer to the union’s legally-defined Duty of Fair Representation, which amounts to what might be termed “forced” representation and seems to make the relationship reciprocal. (Those who oppose agency fee arrangements don’t usually address whether they think unions should be freed from DFR, leaving the impression that they think non-members will pay dues if they can get the service for free.) Error 3: “I support union members but not union leaders.” Union governance is democratic by law, since union elections are federally regulated. NEOEA surveys of union leaders and rank-and-file members do not indicate any significant differences in their attitudes and beliefs. Supporting one implies support for the other. Error 4: “Teachers’ unions influence school board elections and then make sweetheart deals with their hand-picked board members.” Although a few of our locals make endorsements in school board elections, most do not. But if boards were indeed in union pockets, one assumes that OSBA would be joining with us against SB 5 instead of supporting it. When I repeated this whopper at a public meeting Wednesday evening, it drew laughter from the audience. Error 5: “State law mandates automatic step increases.” Automatic step increases are incorporated in most teacher contracts, but those provisions are not mandated by state law. (Observation: changes to existing salary schedules can be extremely difficult to work out, not only with Boards but with members. Sometimes the union’s toughest negotiations are among its own members.) As I told the Representatives in my email, “I have confined myself here to errors that I actually heard in the hearing room yesterday, and have resisted the temptation to address other errors that creep into the debate about this important issue. Simply correcting these will be enough for now.”

Author: StgCoach

Retired teacher and public education leader. Pastoral musician, community activist, parliamentarian, and photographer.