Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

Lawmakers Should Prioritize Protecting Taxpayers and Empowering Teachers

Vincent Vernuccio

During this year’s legislative session, State Senator Ben Toews and State Representative Sage Dixon introduced legislation that would have allowed teachers to keep their personal contact information private and ensure that taxpayers’ dollars stay in the classroom – instead of helping fund teacher union activity on the taxpayers’ dime.

These lawmakers should be applauded for their leadership in protecting educators and stewarding taxpayers’ resources at the same time. And, I encourage Idaho legislators to bring back similar reforms next year in order to protect taxpayers and empower teachers.

My organization, Workers for Opportunity, is a pro-worker freedom non-profit that believes that workers should be free to choose whether or not to join and pay a union and also believes that unions should not receive special treatment and incentives funded by taxpayers.

We believe that all teachers should be free to join and pay a union or to not join and pay a union – and that they should be able to make that decision to join or leave the union at any time throughout the year. Additionally, government should not utilize taxpayer resources to be the bill collector for unions and their dues. Union members should pay their dues directly to the union just like everyday Idahoans pay membership fees to their gym, Netflix or Costco.

These reforms ensure transparency, protect freedom of speech and also ensure proper stewardship of taxpayer resources.

Additionally, model legislation should protect Idaho educators by implementing greater privacy safeguards over their personal contact information, free new hires from being forced to participate in a captive audience pitch from a union just to keep a job and ensure that taxpayers aren’t forced to subsidize teachers’ work on union business while they’re being paid to be in the classroom.

For example, the Jefferson County Education Association’s contract includes a provision to provide to the union, “names, addresses and telephone numbers of all teachers.”

Future legislation should restore educators’ autonomy over decisions about who gets access to their personal contact information. If they want to share these resources with a union, they can do so directly or by providing permission for their employer to share the information.

But protecting employees’ personal information is just a step in a series of actions lawmakers should champion to restore privacy protections and good governance.

Currently, unions may also negotiate provisions in their contract which require newly hired educators to sit through so called “captive audience meetings,” where they are required to listen to a union’s sales pitch.

In another example, the Boise Education Association contract with the school district permits the union to hold these captive audience meetings. To put the experience in perspective, think of this like a timeshare presentation on steroids – one that’s not optional, but a condition of your employment. Many union contracts also allow unions to present at staff meetings.

Interactions between a union and an employee should be voluntary. Teachers should be empowered to decide whether to attend union sales pitches. Membership is their choice. Attendance at union recruitment meetings should be too.

While these protections for teachers are important, it is equally important that lawmakers protect taxpayer resources and interests. To those ends, reforms should also address the troubling practice of “release time,” which allows public school teachers and others to do union business during normal working hours – while still getting paid for that time with Idaho tax dollars.

A report from the Freedom Foundation reveals that at least 51 school districts are providing some sort of compensation to educators for doing union work when they should be teaching students.

Nothing prevents union officials and members from taking vacation time or unpaid time off with the union reimbursing them. However, taxpayers shouldn’t have to fund union activity.

Lastly, future legislation should ensure that unions are treated like any other organization when it comes to utilizing publicly-funded facilities – without any special favors expensed to the taxpayer. Unions will instead have the same access to public buildings as any other organization.

These commonsense reforms give teachers greater freedom to make personal decisions based on their individual values and interests while providing taxpayers the respect they deserve from a fiscally responsible government that supports worker freedom.

Vincent Vernuccio serves as Labor Policy Senior Fellow at Workers for Opportunity a national initiative of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Vincent Vernuccio

Vincent Vernuccio

Vincent Vernuccio serves as Labor Policy Senior Fellow at Workers for Opportunity a national initiative of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

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