Tag: public unions

Teachers unions continue to block school reopenings across America

Teachers unions continue to block school reopenings across America

As district school closures enter their 11th month, many parents are frustrated and angry. They may see private schools that have been open for in-person learning since the start of the academic year and wonder why their own children are forced to endure remote schooling indefinitely. They may ask why in some parts of the country district schools have been open for in-person learning for months.

To a large degree, the answer lies in the power and influence of local teachers unions to determine whether or not schools reopen for in-person classes.

As a case in point, district schools in Montclair, New Jersey, located just outside of New York City, have been closed for in-person learning since the spring and may remain closed until next year as recent negotiations with the area’s powerful teachers union broke down. The Montclair Education Association demanded additional school funding and costly safety measures before they would agree even to a hybrid model of reopening, with part-time student attendance. A representative from the statewide New Jersey teachers union, which supports the Montclair union’s actions, told the New York Times that everyone should accept “interruptions in learning for maybe another year.”

When the Montclair School District ordered teachers to return for classes late last month, the teachers union pressured their members not to go to work, causing the school district to cancel its reopening plans. Earlier this week, the school district announced that it is suing the teachers union over its practices.

A similar story has emerged in Chicago, where in-person schooling plans continue to be delayed this week due to the Chicago Teachers Union blocking the reopening. According to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot had expected district schools to reopen on Monday for the 60,000 elementary school students who had registered to return for in-person classes, but the mayor had to cancel these plans when the teachers union resisted.

The Chicago Teachers Union made headlines in December when it tweeted that the “push to reopen schools is rooted in sexism, racism, and misogyny.” The union later deleted the tweet, but it wasn’t the first time the Chicago Teachers Union raised eyebrows on social media. In August, the union responded to a video of a faux guillotine placed in front of Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos’s, house, tweeting: “We are completely frightened by, completely impressed by and completely in support of wherever this is headed. #Solidarity.”

In San Francisco, the teachers union is demanding, among other things, lids on all school toilets as a condition of reopening, even though no COVID cases have been linked to toilets. These actions suggest that science isn’t always the driving force behind union demands.

According to data analyzed by Education Next, more than half of all US students are fully remote this year, and only about one-quarter are fully in-person, with the remaining students in some type of hybrid setup. Millions of schoolchildren haven’t been inside a classroom since last March. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the remote schooling experience has led to dismal results for many students, yet their schools remain closed despite research showing that schools aren’t super-spreaders and that they can reopen safely for students and teachers alike. The US has been alone in its widespread and ongoing school closures. Why is this?

The correlation between ongoing school closures and local teacher union influence is hard to ignore. Research by Corey DeAngelis of the Reason Foundation and Christos Makridis of Arizona State University revealed that schools were likely to remain closed for in-person learning in areas where teacher unions are particularly powerful. In fact, continued school closures were unrelated to COVID-19 risk in terms of cases and deaths in the school district’s county. They concluded that “reopening decisions have more to do with influence from teachers’ unions than safety concerns.”

Another paper by researchers at Brown University found a similar correlation between teacher union strength and school reopening plans.

Like any government-sector labor union, teachers unions are primarily concerned with protecting the jobs of their members while securing higher pay and benefits. But by pushing hard to keep schools closed, they may be accelerating their own demise and turning parents and taxpayers steadily away from public schools.

This academic year, there has been an exodus of children from district schools toward private schools and independent homeschooling. According to the Associated Press and Chalkbeat, public school enrollment has declined in 33 states this school year as parents switch to private education options. Homeschooling has more than doubled during the pandemic, and many private schools are seeing surging enrollments. Some families are also turning to high-quality, privately-run online learning programs rather than continue with their district’s often lower-quality remote schooling.

Unlike district schools, private schools have been much more likely to open for in-person learning. According to Education Next data, 60 percent of private school students are attending school in person and only 18 percent of private school students are learning remotely. For students in public schools, these percentages are flipped.

While their enrollment has been declining over the past several years, Catholic schools have seen renewed interest during the pandemic and are safely and successfully meeting parent demand for in-person learning. An editorial in this week’s Wall Street Journal explains that when teachers unions in Massachusetts announced delayed openings and remote schooling last fall, Boston’s Catholic schools gained students. “Just as significant,” writes Journal columnist William McGurn, “Catholic schools prove you can keep classrooms open while keeping Covid-19 at bay, which gave teachers unions another reason to resent them.”

While it may be rooted in resentment, the competition that public schools are experiencing from open private schools is having an impact on their behavior. The Brown researchers who revealed a correlation between teacher union strength and school reopenings also found that districts with competition from a large number of Catholic schools in the same area were more likely to remain open for in-person learning or to reopen than district schools in areas without such competition.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist, Milton Friedman, wrote about the monopolistic power of government-run schools and advocated for education choice policies, such as vouchers, that would encourage more competition among schools and provide parents with more choice, variety, and influence over their children’s education. He wrote: “You cannot make a monopolistic supplier of a service pay much attention to its customers’ wants — especially when it does not get its funds directly from its customers. The only solution is to break the monopoly, introduce competition and give the customers alternatives.”

Support for school choice policies has grown during the school shutdowns, with a RealClear Opinion Research survey revealing an increase last fall to 77 percent of respondents favorable to such policies. Now, according to Reason’s DeAngelis, more than a dozen state legislatures have introduced bills to significantly expand school choice policies, including offering education savings accounts (ESAs) in which tax dollars fund students not school systems.

School closures have empowered parents in unprecedented ways, handing them back the reins of their children’s education and prompting them to demand more for their kids. Newly emboldened, parents aren’t likely to kowtow to district directives once schools fully reopen. Many of them will find they prefer their current private education options and value more educational freedom and flexibility. The bureaucratic structures and union influences that have long preserved conventional district schooling have been dramatically weakened and will not easily rebound now that parents are back in charge. The result may be the first large-scale transformation in education in more than a century.

“We are in a major shift from how we thought about teaching children and running schools for 100 years,” Vanderbilt University’s Joseph Murphy told the Wall Street Journal earlier this week. “Parents have shifted to the place where they feel they need more direct involvement and greater responsibility for what happens with their children.”

The longer schools stay closed and teachers unions squabble with district administrators over reopening plans, the more parents will pull their children out of district schools for better options.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

The day the music died at the University of Maine Machias: Why I left AFUM

The day the music died at the University of Maine Machias: Why I left AFUM

My name is Brian Beal, and I am tenured professor of marine ecology at the University of Maine at Machias (UMM). I attended UMM for four years after graduating from nearby Jonesport Beals High School in 1975, and received a B.S. in Biology in 1979. I have held several full-time positions at UMM since May 1985 and joined the faculty and the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine (AFUM) in September 1995. I resigned from AFUM in December 2020.

I certainly appreciate and benefit from the work that colleagues here and at the other six campuses in the University of Maine System (UMS) do to represent full-time faculty in collective bargaining and other activities. Numerous decisions related to collective bargaining have disappointed me over time (e.g., no substantive movement regarding merit pay or salary inequities between campuses; pay increases that fail to keep pace with changes in the cost of living). I have never voted in favor of an AFUM contract. Growing up in the local area, I knew if I remained on the clam flats for an additional hour, or fished 100 lobster traps instead of 75, the extra effort likely would translate into more income; yet, that simple formula that seems to work in the private sector does not translate to academe. Nonetheless, I paid dues to AFUM month after month since 1995 thinking, like most I presume, that my contributions would generate some overall benefit for faculty at UMM and across the UMS. And then, an incident occurred on October 21, 2020 that reminded me of the idiom “The Last Straw.”

I was at home watching Game 2 of the World Series between Tampa Bay and Los Angeles when I received a text message from my best friend Gene Nichols. Affectionately referred to as the “Music Man” by anyone who has had the privilege of seeing him perform (or performing with him), he wrote, “I guess I’m done here.” I immediately phoned him not knowing what he was talking about. Gene said he was in his office working on material for his upcoming classes when the head of campus knocked on his door and invited Gene to accompany him back to his office for a Zoom meeting in 10 minutes with human resources staff member from the University of Maine (UM). UMM is now a regional campus of UM, and many administrative duties, including HR, are now supported by people in Orono. Gene said the meeting was brief, and that he’d been fired. FIRED?!

“How can they fire you, you have tenure, you’ve been at UMM since September 1985 (35 years)?!” I said. “You’ve given your heart and soul to this institution, its students, staff, and faculty. You’ve served on faculty committees, taught courses both in and out of your comfort zone to accommodate colleagues, division chairs, academic deans, and presidents. Whenever anyone asked, you consented, whether that was to provide entertainment at every graduation since you first stepped onto this campus, for meetings when the UMS Board of Trustees were in town, or when community groups wanted to use the Performing Arts Center. You were always there. You are UMM’s fine arts icon!”

“They’re down-sizing,” Gene said. “We don’t have a lot of students in music classes anymore. They called it ‘retrenchment.'”  UMM’s Interdisciplinary Fine Arts major was excised recently, leaving a B.A. in Creative Arts that contains 33 credits for its program requirements – courses with the acronym ART, ENG, CMY, or MAR, but none with MUS.

Amazingly, I’d never heard of retrenchment, so I went to the current AFUM contract to see if it was there. Sure enough, there on page 29, Article 17 – Retrenchment: “the discontinuance of a unit member with tenured appointment or continuing contract from a position at any time or a probationary or fixed length appointment before the end of a specified term for bona fide financial or program reasons including temporary or permanent program suspension or elimination.”

I thought surely this can’t apply to Gene. He’s been here for 35 years. While music courses are no longer required in any B.S. or B.A. program, MUS 115 and MUS 103 are still 3-credit and 1-credit options, respectively, in the Core Requirements, and 15 MUS courses still are listed in the 2020-2021 UMM Catalog.

Gene isn’t the kind of guy that gets upset about things, which is about 180 degrees in the opposite direction from me. I was mad! He wasn’t. My world is more black-and-white, and in my world, someone who has devoted 35 years of teaching and accommodating everyone who has asked him to give something with little in return should be able to bow out under their own terms. Gene has taught courses ranging from Chorale (MUS 101), Applied Music (MUS 301 Community Band/Pop Band/Chamber Ensemble), and Songwriting (MUS 223) to special topics and interdisciplinary, semester-long courses focused on the Beetles, the Circus, and Captain Beefheart. Name an instrument that Gene can’t play. He plays just about any brass instrument you could pronounce, as well as both percussion and stringed instruments (except the piano). He can play a Brahms Rhapsody in B minor on the theremin, and any other tune you can name on a saw! My nickname for Gene is “The Genius!”

I ultimately resigned from AFUM because the retrenchment of Gene Nichols is not just unfair, it’s ridiculous, disrespectful, and challenges the very fabric of the phrase “job security.” What is 35 years worth? Apparently, a 10-minute warning that everything that you’ve done to build your career, mentor students and colleagues through the EGBDF’s of music history, theory, listening, and performing, and represent UMM at countless events both on and off campus with the confidence of a maestro, is all discounted, finished, over, kaput!

I asked the AFUM representative on our campus how something like retrenchment is in the AFUM contract. The answer was that “retrenchment is not an AFUM measure but a university measure.” I decided that if, after all the years of negotiations and bargaining, the faculty union was not strong enough to allow the likes of Gene Nichols (or anyone else in his shoes) to decide for himself when the time has come to hang up his drumsticks and leave the academy, then I didn’t see any reason to continue contributing to the organization.

A Maine professor suing faculty union is appealing his case to the Supreme Court

A Maine professor suing faculty union is appealing his case to the Supreme Court

Jonathan Reisman, an associate professor of economics and public policy at the University of Maine at Machias, is appealing his case, Reisman v. Associated Faculties of the University of Maine (AFUM), to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Friday, Jan. 2, The Buckeye Institute, the organization representing Reisman in his case, filed an appeal to SCOTUS calling for an end to laws in Maine and other states that force public-sector employees to accept compelled union representation. This process, called exclusive representation (a policy for which unions advocate), prevents nonmember employees in a bargaining unit from representing themselves in matters with their employer.

In 2018, the high court ruled in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) that public employees cannot be required to pay dues or fees to a labor union as a condition of employment. Before Janus, nonmember public employees were compelled to pay “agency fees” to a union for the cost of the organization’s representational activities concerning the employee, despite rejecting the union’s representation by refusing to join or opting out of membership.

SCOTUS ruled this practice violates the First Amendment rights of public employees. Reisman is asking the high court to consider exclusive representation laws under the same principle. If compelled payments to a union violate a public employee’s First Amendment rights, compelled representation must also violate employee’s rights.

“Professor Reisman is a hardworking public employee who has for many years been forced to associate with a union with which he disagrees and suffer it to speak for him,” said Robert Alt, president and chief executive officer of The Buckeye Institute and a lead attorney on the case. “If state law cannot compel public employees to financially support union advocacy — as the court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME — how can states require these same public employees to accept representation from unions that many of them have chosen not to join? These are serious questions about the constitutionality of exclusive representation — questions which the U.S. Supreme Court needs to address.”

“Despite resigning his union membership, Professor Reisman is required by Maine law be represented by a union with which he does not agree and of which he is not a member,” said Andrew M. Grossman, a partner at BakerHostetler in Washington, D.C., and counsel of record on the Reisman v. AFUM petition. “Following the Court’s landmark Janus ruling, it is clear that these laws are unconstitutional, and we hope the Court will recognize them as such.”

Reisman formerly served as a grievance officer with his union before resigning his membership after the Janus decision. His former union, AFUM, is affiliated with the Maine Education Association and the National Education Association, which has taken political stances that Reisman finds objectionable.

While the outcome of Janus freed him from the requirement of either joining the union or being forced to pay representation fees, Maine law still forces AFUM to be Reisman’s exclusive representative, meaning he is still associated with the positions the union takes.

If the Supreme Court agrees to hear Reisman’s case and rules in his favor, the First Amendment rights of public employees to represent themselves in matters with their employer would be restored. The end result is true freedom of speech and association, not compelled speech and association as required by state labor law.

The Buckeye Institute is also representing public employees in other post-Janus lawsuits throughout the country, including Kathy Uradnik of St. Cloud State University in Uradnik v. Inter Faculty Organization and Jade Thompson, a Spanish teacher in Ohio, in Thompson v. Marietta Education Association.