Commentary

As Pandemic Shutters Schools, It’s Business as Usual for Union Bullies

By Stan Greer | April 8, 2020 | 5:16pm EDT
Striking teachers and supporters walk a picket line outside Peirce Elementary School on the first day of strike by the Chicago Teachers Union on October 17 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo credit: KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Striking teachers and supporters walk a picket line outside Peirce Elementary School on the first day of strike by the Chicago Teachers Union on October 17 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo credit: KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

With schools across the country now shut down as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, many parents are gamely trying to keep the education process going outside the classroom, without unnecessary and harmful delays, by enrolling their children in online public charter schools. 

But as they do, teacher union bosses and their allied politicians in a number of states are reportedly hurling obstacles in their path. Big Labor bureaucrats’ outrageous bullying in Oregon was recently exposed in a Wall Street Journal editorial.

Unfortunately, cynical, politician-abetted schemes to deny parents, schoolchildren and teachers the opportunity to escape ineffective unionized public schools by turning to union-free charters are par for the course for top bosses of the mammoth National Education Association (NEA) teacher union and its state and local subsidiaries. Just ask Dr. Kristie Chiscano.

Long before anyone knew what COVID-19 was, in fact, for decades, many educators who disagreed with teacher union bosses’ political stances and/or their “one size fits all” vision of how instructional employees should be compensated, were shunning employment at unionized district schools and opting instead for charter schools, which are overwhelmingly union-free.

Chiscano, who since 2011 has worked as a chemistry teacher at Gompers Preparatory Academy (GPA) in San Diego, accepted the job knowing that she wouldn’t be required to submit to government union bosses’ monopoly control as a condition of employment.

But a year ago this January, San Diego Education Association (SDEA/NEA) union officials were able, using California labor-law provisions that are extraordinarily biased against the rights of individual employees, to seize monopoly-bargaining power over the GPA faculty through a so-called “card check,” without even allowing teachers a chance to vote first in a secret-ballot election.

Last year, soon after union bosses’ card-check coup, Chiscano began circulating among her colleagues a petition for a vote to decertify the union and restore educators’ freedom to deal with GPA directly on matters concerning their pay, benefits, and work rules. Clearly, many agreed with her that union monopolists’ takeover had had a detrimental impact on the school. 

Within a few weeks, Chiscano gathered enough petitions, it seemed, to leave the bureaucrats at California’s Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) with no choice but to allow a faculty secret-ballot vote on whether or not to keep the union.

But last December, before a vote could happen, union bigwigs preemptively filed a PERB charge against GPA demanding that “the certification year be extended.”  Their clear goal was to block independent-minded educators from being able to vote to oust the union for at least another year, even though no teacher opposed to the SDEA union was even said to have done anything wrong.

After enlisting free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Chiscano was able to fight back. With help from a Foundation staff attorney, late last month she submitted to the PERB a response to the SDEA hierarchy’s meritless “blocking charges.” The PERB has no valid reason to deny the teachers’ legal right to a secret-ballot decertification vote, argued the response.

With PERB offices currently closed under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus lockdown, but PERB employees reportedly continuing to perform their duties “via telework,” it is hard to predict when state bureaucrats will decide whether or not to grant GPA employees a chance this year to unshackle themselves from Big Labor rule.

To Chiscano and other freedom-loving charter school teachers who have long known about how the bosses of NEA-affiliated unions like the SDEA conduct themselves, there’s nothing surprising about how California school districts’ efforts to get meaningful online education underway since the coronavirus lockdown started have been hogtied by union bosses’ demands that negotiations be held over a “slew of issues” first.

Nor is there anything surprising about the fact that, in neighboring Oregon, on March 27, the Big Labor-“friendly” Department of Education “stopped allowing transfers” from effectively nonfunctioning unionized district schools to fully operational online charter schools.

In normal times and extraordinary times alike, teacher union bosses fight primarily for the protection of their turf and their coerced dues revenues. That’s why all Americans who want a better future for education in our country should be rooting for Chiscano and other likeminded GPA teachers.

Stan Greer is senior research associate at the National Institute for Labor Relations Research. NILRR’s website is www.nilrr.org. He is also editor of the National Right to Work Committee’s newsletter.

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