The war on teacher unions continues

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The war on teacher unions continues: We care. We fight. We show up.

Judging by the reaction from Louisiana’s biggest business lobby, you might think that a recent Supreme Court decision about public sector unions will have a major impact in our state.

It won’t. But that’s not stopping big business from using the decision to attack the LFT and other unions in our state. Here are the facts.

Some states (but not Louisiana) have laws requiring government agencies like school boards to negotiate contracts with public employees and their unions. In those states, employees do not have to join the union that negotiates their contracts and protects their jobs.

Until now, if they didn’t join the union, they had to pay a fee smaller than union dues to cover the cost of administering the contract.

In what is called the Janus decision, the Supreme Court ruled that those fees are unconstitutional. In states that were allowed to charge what are called agency fees, unions will lose the income from non-members who no longer have to pay the cost of maintaining the contract.

It will not affect LFT members in Louisiana, because we are a Right to Work state. Union membership here is completely voluntary, and has been since 1976.

Collective bargaining contracts are allowed in Louisiana if the school board and union agree, but no one has to join the union or pay a fee.

In school systems that have a collective bargaining agreement, employees negotiate their salaries and terms of employment with the school board. In other systems, those terms are dictated by the school board alone.

So to repeat, the Janus decision has NOTHING to do with Louisiana teachers, school employees, and their unions.

That did not stop Louisiana Association of Business and Industry President Stephen Waguespack from using the Janus decision as an excuse to ramp up the Big Business assault on education unions in Louisiana.

Waguespack (formerly one of the architects of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s disastrous economic policies) says that the Janus decision “shines a definitive spotlight” on the decades-old practice of collecting union dues through payroll deduction.

Taking away the right to payroll dues deduction has been the goal of big business for years. LABI’s biggest supporter, industrialist Lane Grigsby, was recorded telling a crowd that it would be a “spear in the heart” of the education union movement.

So, what is payroll deduction and why does the business lobby want to abolish it?

Payroll deduction is a service offered by school boards to United Way, insurance companies and dozens of other vendors, including education organizations. With a simple stroke of a computer key, employees can have money deducted from their paychecks for various purposes.

It is virtually cost-free for school boards, and it allows the LFT and others to have a stable, reliable revenue stream. No public funds are involved – these are deductions that members are voluntarily contributing from their paychecks.

LABI believes that abolishing payroll deduction would weaken unions by making us divert resources to other expensive and time-consuming dues collection methods like direct deposit and credit card payment.

Why would LABI want to weaken teacher unions and thereby silence the voices of teachers and school employees who are the real education experts?

There are several reasons, and none of them are good for educators, public schools, and the children we serve.

LABI rightly sees unions like the LFT as a counterbalance to their privatization agenda. For years, public schools have been the target of for-profit outfits that see our state’s $3.4 billion education budget – and the nation’s $500 billion budget – as ripe for the picking.

As for-profit charter operators proliferate, LFT and other unions point out that public education funds are funneled to school CEOs and shareholders, while teachers have few rights. In the private and religious voucher schools favored by LABI, students are often shortchanged with shoddy curricula, inadequate facilities, and poorly trained teachers.

At the same time, LABI and its allies have been cheerleaders for the disastrous “reforms” imposed by the legislature and BESE under former Gov. Bobby Jindal and Superintendent of Education John White. Value-added teacher evaluations, the common core controversy, manipulated school scoring, merit pay, state seizure of public schools, and minimizing the role of locally elected school boards are all part of their agenda.

Waguespack and LABI, and the legislators they support, bear great responsibility for a K-12 education budget that has been frozen for 10 of the last 11 years, for the reduction in average Louisiana teacher salaries, and for higher education funding that’s been reduced by some 80 percent, and a huge increase in tuition and fees for students.

It’s no wonder that they want to silence the education unions that threaten their agenda, but we can’t let that happen.

LABI has nearly limitless financial resources to influence the outcome of elections for school boards, BESE, the legislature and the governor’s office. They and their allies spent millions just to elect a majority on the state education board.

Union strength is not in the dollars we can provide, but in the members who can vote. In many school districts, the local education union is the largest membership organization – bigger than Rotary, Kiwanis, the Lions Club or other civic groups.

Our mission is clear. To defend our schools and the right of all children to a free and appropriate public education, we must frame our arguments, make our case, and mobilize our members to vote for candidates at every level of government who will support us and the children we serve.

We care. We fight. We show up. We vote. Our future depends on it. It’s up to us.