Why Collective Bargaining Rights Matter

This blog is read by many friends who are current or former teachers. I don’t know them all personally, of course, but the ones I do know are all great people, and they come from a variety of political persuasions. When I say that public employee collective bargaining rights are under attack, many of them wonder what that would mean.

First, with regard to public employees in general, let’s be clear: Senate Bill 5 removes the right of state employees to bargain collectively. For other public employees like teachers, unions aren’t banned: they’re just neutered. This is a violation of the social justice teachings of many religions, including mine, and if passed it will be an unjust, discriminatory law that will impose on a minority what the majority will not impose on itself. So the bill is, quite simply, immoral, and that should be enough to say.
But many of my friends feel that they didn’t (or don’t) make use of their union membership when they were (or are) teaching, and they wonder what they would miss if this legislation were passed. Here, from a letter to the Cleveland Teachers Union from its attorney, is a list of things that would be removed by the stroke of a pen.
  • Tenure: SB 5 would eliminate the due-process rights of continuing contracts for all new hires and eliminate limited contracts of more than one year.
  • Compensation: SB 5 would eliminate the negotiated training and experience grids that school districts use to calculate salaries. Instead, it requires school districts to base compensation on “merit,” which remains undefined.
  • Health care: It would be unlawful for a school district to negotiate its employees’ health care plans or to charge less than 20% of the cost.
  • Seniority: It would be unlawful for a school district to base layoffs on seniority within certification area. School districts would be free to adopt virtually any other criteria they wished, and those criteria would not be a subject of bargaining.
  • Class sizes: It would be unlawful for a school district to negotiate any provisions regarding class size, including provisions for special education staffing.
  • Leaves: It would be unlawful for a school district to negotiate sick leave, maternity leave, or assault leave.

So, my friends, did/do you make use of your union membership? If you’ve received a negotiated salary, taken a sick day, have a continuing contract, received health care coverage, or been protected from arbitrary transfers, you have. Senate Bill 5’s intrusion into the operation of local school districts is breathtaking.

Senate Bill 5 has received so much negative publicity – and is so obviously overreaching on the part of its author – that we have a chance of defeating it or removing its more egregious provisions. But the unfortunate fact is that the current Governor and many (not all) of the members of the Republican majority have set the destruction of collective bargaining rights for public employees as a key goal, and this fits into a national movement fueled by components of the far right. These ideas won’t go away: even if we’re able to block SB 5, we’ll need to fight for our collective bargaining right for years to come.
I’ll close with this special comment for my Republican friends, especially those from Aurora: I respect conservatism. I began my political life as a Goldwater Republican, and I still believe in the principles of small government, individual responsibility, and fiscal restraint. But I also believe in public schools, and part of the Republican party doesn’t share that value. If you’re a teacher and also a Republican, you need to know that your party leadership has walked away from you. You need to call them back, and that’s something a Democrat or Independent can’t do. All of us who live in Ohio need to call our state senators; OEA has set up a hotline for this purpose at (888) 907-7309. If your Senator is a Republican and you’re a Republican, you really need to do this, and you need to make it clear that you are a Republican and you don’t approve of their attacks on public schools and the people who work there.

Author: StgCoach

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