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Non-Union Educator Groups Challenged by Seeking Equal Treatment
posted by: Alix | March 28, 2012, 06:11 PM   

Since AAE's founding in 1994, our association and state partners have been met with harsh opposition from both the NEA and its state affiliates. False claims about AAE's motives and benefits, coupled with districts shutting out non-union groups in favor of the union have been commonplace. AAE members have even been harassed and blackballed for supporting the non-union option. In states such as Colorado, Idaho, Kansas and Utah, non-union groups have been on the front lines of seeking equal treatment as their union counterparts.

Despite the fact that the non-union educator movement is exploding across the country, the playing field in certain states is anything but fair. Time and time again, local non-union leaders are met with opposition from the union. Whether it's having an exhibit table at a new teacher orientation, presenting at a faculty meeting, serving on a committee or distributing literature, districts often bow to pressure from union leaders and block access to AAE even though the union enjoys open access in districts. This union pressure borders on absurd including threats of lawsuits against districts.

In the current climate, individual states have either pursued or passed various bills known collectively as "equal access" laws. These statewide policies mandate equal treatment of teacher associations, whether it is in the form of equal time to speak with teachers in meetings, equal access to mailboxes, or email addresses, or any other contact, to all competing education organizations. If followed correctly, the state would simply be facilitating an open playing field for all associations, and teachers themselves would make the ultimate decisions of which organization to join – if any. Equal access laws also have the benefit of getting school districts out of the business of being the middle of whether or not to allow AAE in.

In Utah, equal access became the law of the land in 2007, allowing AAE greater access than ever before to offer teachers a new option. Despite this law, it appeared that districts and local UEA reps continued to collaborate on ways to keep AAE on the sidelines. Because the equal access law had no penalties for non-compliance, a bill was introduced in the 2012 legislative session that would strengthen the law and sanction school districts and leaders for non-compliance. Despite testimony about unfair practices associated with schools, districts, and administrators shutting out competing organizations in favor of the teacher labor union monopoly, the bill failed to pass the legislature. While equal access is still the law, AAE Utah leaders are expecting continued challenges in access to teachers.

AAE's state chapter in Colorado, the Professional Association of Colorado Educators (PACE), also experiences hurdles due to the unfair playing field in the state. For example, PACE members in Jefferson County were recently denied access to payroll deduction of PACE dues. The payroll clerk cited budget issues; however, the union enjoys this privilege. When PACE offered to reimburse the district for the cost of processing payroll deduction, the district declined. Sadly, at this point, this preferential treatment is legal. There is hope for Colorado's teachers as potential legislation may soon be considered to right these wrongs and empower teachers to make informed choices.

In Idaho, Northwest Professional Educators, an AAE chapter, recently testified in support of HB 694, a bill that revises current law and clarifies that districts must inform teachers about their options for non-union, professional associations that provide liability insurance and legal services for employment rights issues. While the bill passed the House, due to time constraints, the legislation will be effectively shelved until next year.

Last year, AAE's Kansas chapter, the Kansas Association of American Educators (KANAAE), testified in support of equal access legislation with similar results. HB 2229 ended up stalling in the Senate, continuing to allow the KNEA unfettered access to every district in the state. While KANAAE membership is on the rise, KANAAE is often barred from promoting the non-union option.

The fact is getting equal access – much less equal treatment – is an uphill battle. While it's no surprise that the teachers unions fight against the expansion of the non-union option, it's disturbing to see district and state leaders complicit with this practice.

Interestingly, while AAE and other non-union groups seek to welcome teacher members across the country, AAE has never sought to be the monopoly voice for teachers as the union so often states and fears. From the very beginning, the non-union educator movement has been about creating an option for teachers searching for professional benefits, like liability insurance and legal protections, at a fraction of the cost and without a partisan agenda. AAE is not a labor union and has no interest in bargaining contracts or telling members how to vote, but an entirely different entity, solely focused on professionalism and balancing the interests of educators and students to help create a world-class education system.

As the leader of the non-union educator movement, our hope is for teachers nationwide to be presented with the critical information needed in selecting an association that best aligns with their beliefs and budget. Teachers deserve a choice no matter where they teach.

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