Kansas teachers reject union representation in one district

Rejection of Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) by teachers in a small Kansas school district could start a trend. From Heritage Foundation’s The Foundry.

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA)

By James Sherk and Michael Cirrotti.

Teachers in Deerfield, Kansas, just did something unusual — they voted to decertify their union. The Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) no longer represents them.

Teachers disliking their union representation do not make news, but teachers actually leaving their union do: The law makes it very difficult for teachers to remove unwanted unions.

Unlike most public officials, unions do not stand for re-election, so their members cannot regularly hold them accountable. Workers can remove an unwanted union only by filing for decertification. But bureaucratic obstacles make it difficult to hold a vote on decertification. The hoops Deerfield’s teachers had to jump through illustrate this problem.

Joel McClure, the teacher who led the effort, submitted the appropriate paperwork to the Kansas Department of Labor in November 2012. But Kansas teachers can request a vote only in a two-month window every three years. KNEA officials contested the petition by claiming that the teachers missed the December 1 deadline. (The Department of Labor had misplaced the initial petition paperwork.) Then the KNEA objected that the teachers’ attorney was not certified in Kansas and that they did not have enough signatures. However, the teachers prevailed and voted out their union—in June, just eight months after the initial submission.

When asked why they went through such protracted effort, the teachers said their union ignored their concerns. They wanted instead to be actively involved in negotiations and work collaboratively with the school district. “The desire is for teachers to participate at the [bargaining] table, to have free access to information,” McClure said. “In our little school district, there’s no reason we can’t sit down at the table and work out our issues.”

Now they can. But most other teachers never get to choose their bargaining representatives. Their unions formed in the 1970s and have never stood for re-election since. In some of Kansas’s largest school districts, not one teacher voted for the current union. Teachers who do not want a prolonged legal battle get stuck with their union by default.

The law should give workers more choice about who represents them. Kansas legislators are reviewing Kansas HB 2027, which would require teachers unions to stand for re-election every two years and allow individual teachers to negotiate separate contracts. This would make unions more accountable to their members while allowing great teachers to negotiate for even better pay.

Americans trust teachers to educate our children. We should also trust them to choose who should represent them.

Michael Cirrotti is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.


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