Teachers Unions: Protecting the Bosses at Teachers’ Expense
A common misperception is that unions exist to protect the interests of workers. If this were true, if unions really fought vigorously for the interests of workers, they would not be tolerated at all. The fact that they are legal, and that a large body of laws has been written to regulate their activities, is evidence of their acceptance by the employing class. Indeed, they serve the interests of the employing class by acting as intermediaries that help maintain the peace between employers and workers, keeping them on the job and working efficiently.
When looked at from this perspective, it should come as no surprise that the California Teachers Association (CTA is the state’s largest teachers union) is giving its unconditional support to new legislation that would make it easier to fire teachers. Assembly Bill 375, written by Democrat Joan Buchanan, has already received unanimous approval by the Assembly’s Education Committee and overwhelming support by both parties. It has also been praised by the CTA:
“We support AB 375 and AB 1338 because the bills reflect CTA’s goals to keep students safe, safeguard the integrity of the profession, and protect the rights of educators. CTA supports these bills because they provide immediate protections for students and streamline and shorten the dismissal process to ensure charges are handled fairly and in a timely manner. We commend Assembly Education Committee Chair Joan Buchanan for her hard work in developing the legislation and Senator Alex Padilla for signing on as co-author. We look forward to working with lawmakers as these bills make their way through the legislative process.”
The bills stem from the mass hysteria that there are rampant perverts in the classroom and the unions are somehow complicit in protecting them—a panic fed by the arrest of Mark Berndt (LAUSD) last year from for engaging in lewd acts with students, and accusations by University of California, Berkeley swim coach, Kristen Cunnane (among many others), that former Moraga science teacher Dan Witters and physical education instructor Julie Corea had molested them. (Witters committed suicide and Corea is serving an 8-year prison sentence for rape and sexual battery of students).
As tragic (and frightening for parents) as these cases are, there is no evidence that molestation in the schools is any worse now than in the past or that the unions bear any culpability. However, there is ample evidence in both these cases (and in many other school molestation cases) that the perpetrators were either protected by their school districts or that credible accusations and evidence against them were ignored, covered up or lost by their districts. Legislation that streamlines the firing of teachers does nothing to mitigate these problems or make children any safer, nor does it eliminate districts’ incentive to protect their reputations at the expense of children’s safety.
Weakening Due Process for Teachers Contributes to Declining Union Membership
In addition to doing nothing to protect children, these bills significantly weaken teachers’ due process rights, thus increasing the chances that innocent and excellent teachers will be dismissed. The bills allow the use of evidence older than four years if a judge deems it “relevant”—a nebulous term that leaves open the possibility that a teacher will be punished a second time for small infractions or oversights (e.g., using district websites to check personal email) that have no effect on their skill as teachers. The new rules would also weaken the discovery process and pretrial evidence-gathering proceedings, further eroding teachers’ due process protections and chances of beating a spurious accusation.
Furthermore, the legislation is not limited to violations of the law or accusations of abuse and molestation. The new rules also streamline and speed up the dismissal process for teachers deemed “unsatisfactory.” As districts increasingly adopt evaluation systems that assess teachers based on their students’ test scores (using methods that are notoriously unreliable), districts could soon have skyrocketing numbers of “unsatisfactory” teachers to dismiss, thus making a quicker dismissal process all the more urgent.
The wording of AB 375 explicitly states that the number of teacher dismissal proceedings will increase under the new rules: “these revisions would increase the number of employees subject to immediate placement on compulsory leave of absence. . .” This could lead to declining union membership if an equal number of unionized teachers are not rehired to replace them. With the Parent Trigger law and No Child Left Behind rules requiring failing schools to adopt “reforms” that include charter school conversion, it is entirely feasible that schools with large numbers of dismissed teachers could be converted into nonunionized charter schools.
Making Public Education More Profitable to Capital
Buchanan supported her bill by saying that districts don’t issue more dismissal notices because they don’t want to spend the money. Thus, one goal of the new legislation is to reduce education expenditures, something that allows the state to reduce overall education spending and maintain record low tax rates for businesses and the wealthy.
However, implicit in Buchanan’s statement is the assumption that there are hordes of rotten apples hidden in classrooms throughout the state—bad apples who, more often than not, are only guilty of being outspoken advocates for children, critics of idiotic “reforms,” union organizers, or veterans at the higher end of the pay scale. An unspoken (and likely the most urgent) goal of the legislation is to make it easier to get rid of the teachers who cost their districts the most in salaries, time or trouble.
Some other troubling aspects of the legislation include the sweeping, overly broad and moralistic definitions of misconduct that could result in a teacher’s firing. Under the law, teachers can still be dismissed for “immoral” conduct—another nebulous term that could include polyamory, drunkenness, or other behaviors that occur outside of school or that do not affect performance in the classroom.
While the new legislation would eliminate prohibitions on membership in the Communist Party (which apparently is still an offense for which teachers in California can be fired), it will maintain the antiquated and anti-union prohibition against committing or advocating “criminal syndicalism.” Curiously, while California’s 1919 Criminal Syndicalism Act was repealed in 1991, its prohibitions are maintained for teachers under AB 375. Under this rule, teachers would continue to be prohibited from being members of the Industrial Workers of the World.