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Unions Forsake Teachers for Raw Political Power
posted by: Cindy Omlin | March 22, 2011, 09:13 PM   

During the recent statewide debate on Idaho’s education reform bills, I noted in a letter to the editor that due to a seeming lack of teachers speaking in favor of the bills, one might wrongly think they had no teacher support.  While many members of Northwest Professional Educators (NWPE) strongly oppose elements of Superintendent Luna’s plan, our member survey clearly showed a variety of views, including support for many portions of the plan.  I made the point that teacher support for the bills was never heard, because teachers who do not toe the union line risk harassment at the hands of some union colleagues.  Fear of blackballing and the desire to maintain labor peace in an already stressful job has spawned an unhealthy “group think” that is impairing the free marketplace of ideas critical for innovation and improvement.

Two subsequent letters, both written by union leaders, scolded me for unwarranted criticism of union bullying.  Diane Riley-Link’s letter claimed that I had “callously tossed accusations of union ‘harassment, denigration and bullying’” for actions in which she has never engaged.  She advocated removing the word “professional” from our association’s name.   Jeff Brown’s letter implied that I was regurgitating anti-union talking points and asked if, for once, I might give specific examples of teachers who have “been ostracized, victimized, coerced or discriminated against for failure to belong to the union.”

Sadly, it is not hard to provide the specific examples Mr. Brown requests. As a public school speech pathologist, I myself lived through union bullying. I was once a union member and even served as a union representative. The more involved I got and the more teacher union literature I read, however, the more distressed I became with where my dues were going.  Engaging in the democratic process, I spoke out in my union leading me to be sued by the WEA threatening my livelihood and financial future.  

Despite working both within as union members and outside as nonunion bargaining unit members, teachers in Washington state were unsuccessful in prompting union accountability and professionalism.  Wanting something better, nonunion teachers founded Northwest Professional Educators as a state partner of the Association of American Educators (AAE) in 2001. 

Was forming a nonunion professional educators association an act of union hatred?  Of course not.  It was a commendable response to undeterred union corruption.  Ironically, forming NWPE has led to an improvement in union professionalism.  In a startling admission, a regional representative of the Idaho Education Association told me confidentially that the union has had to become more professional since NWPE came on the scene.

More examples of teachers who have “been ostracized, victimized, coerced or discriminated against for failure to belong to the union,” follow: 

  • Union leaders threatened to sue nonunion teacher Jeff Leer of Sedro Woolley, WA, when he asked his district to comply with the law protecting teachers from making involuntary union political contributions. 
  • Spokane, WA, union leaders distributed a “disloyalty list” naming the district’s nonunion teachers throughout school mailboxes.
  • The Mead, WA, union contract prohibits nonunion teachers from serving on school committees.
  • Union officials vetoed St. Martin University’s choice of a nonunion counselor to serve on its Professional Educational Advisory Board.
  • Union leader threats have bullied school districts into prohibiting distribution of NWPE scholarship flyers and brochures in Washington and Idaho schools by threatening them with unfair labor practices. 
  • Union leaders coerced districts to force dismantling of NWPE information tables manned by nonunion teachers in Emmett and Meridian, ID, after the teachers had been given previous district approval. 
  • Union leaders bullied administrators to prohibit nonunion teachers from posting information about NWPE on teacher bulletin boards in Meridian, ID, while allowing teacher union bulletin boards to openly post false and defamatory flyers about NWPE. 
  • Teacher union leaders have vilified and misrepresented Northwest Professional in propaganda distributed in numerous districts such as Twin Falls, ID. 
  • Union leaders have joined NWPE and then quit with sole intention of making false claims about the poor service of NWPE.  One such leader wrote a disparaging letter that she distributed throughout the Caldwell, ID, school district.  The National Education Association went so far as to doctor and distribute the letter as an attack on the AAE in another state.

As Riley-Link’s and Brown’s letters and the many examples of union abuse reveal, under compulsory dues and monopoly unionism, teachers may be ridiculed, despised, and suffer intolerable treatment when advocating for union accountability, respect, and professionalism.  There could be no greater evidence for the need for independent nonunion professional educator associations like Northwest Professional Educators. 

NWPE will continue to advocate for a free marketplace of ideas that is safe for teachers to share diverse views, provide teachers with professional support, advocate for accountability, and advance the professionalism of educators even in the face of harassment, vindictiveness, and bullying.  There is just too much at stake.  Our students are worth it.

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