Education , Law & Principles , Good Government

Ray Carter | February 25, 2020

GOP defectors side with unions

Ray Carter

Six Republican senators joined Democrats to defeat legislation that would require routine recertification elections for education unions, providing a victory for a teachers’ union that recently gave failing grades to most of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation.

Senate Bill 1716, by Sen. Nathan Dahm, would require that a “secret ballot election for all employees in any bargaining unit” at a school district be conducted every four years to recertify a union.

“This would be an opportunity for our teachers and school district employees to be able to exercise their voice to make sure that they are being represented adequately by these organizations,” said Dahm, R-Broken Arrow. “If they are, the organizations continue to do that. If not, it gives our teachers and school district employees the opportunity to find somebody that would better represent them.”

He said routine recertification elections would increase teacher clout with union representatives since the union would have to constantly demonstrate value to members. Under the current system, he noted most teachers have never voted on their union representation.

“Bureau of Labor Statistics says that less than 10 percent of members of an organization ever had an opportunity to vote,” Dahm said. “Most of these organizations were in place when they joined, so they never had that opportunity.”

SB 1716 would require that “a majority of all employees in the bargaining unit vote in favor of retaining the existing employee organization” for the union to remain certified.

Sen. Carri Hicks, an Oklahoma City Democrat and former teacher, said that the majority requirement was excessive. She argued legislators are elected only by the subset of citizens who register and cast ballots in an election, rather than an outright majority of citizens, and that it was burdensome to require that a majority of school employees certify a union.

“This is almost ensuring that every school district will not be able to meet that internal threshold,” Hicks said.

Dahm said most organizations that face recertification votes are recertified and, in other instances, he noted regular elections are the norm, not the exception.

“Our constituents in our district have a member representing them, but we don’t just stand for election once and we’re there indefinitely.” —Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow

“Our constituents in our district have a member representing them, but we don’t just stand for election once and we’re there indefinitely,” Dahm said.

Sen. Brenda Stanley, a Midwest City Republican who is a former teacher and school administrator, noted teachers can call for a decertification election today.

“They already have that option,” Stanley said. “Why is this needed?”

Under current law, Dahm noted that recertification elections occur only when a teacher publicly calls for one, rather than having a regular recertification election.

“Yes, there is a way that people can proactively do what would essentially be a recall-type system,” Dahm said. “However, they have to proactively do that. That wouldn’t be as much of a secret-ballot measure as this would.”

Under the current system, he said those who seek recertification elections risk reprisal.

“When somebody has to proactively go out and try to do that, a lot of times there can be repercussions,” Dahm said. “So people are less likely to voice their opposition to somebody that they have to publicly do that or proactively do that.”

On its Twitter feed, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) called SB 1716 an “anti-teacher freedom” bill that would “decimate teachers’ ability to join unions or associations.”

The OEA is the local affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA). The group recently gave most of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation failing grades on its Legislative Report Card for the first session of the 116th Congress. On its web page for Oklahoma, the NEA described U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn, the state delegation’s lone Democrat, as the only member of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation to “support public education in your state.”

SB 1716 failed with eight votes in opposition to six in support in the Senate Education Committee. Six Republican senators joined with committee Democrats to kill the bill: Sens. Chris Kidd, R-Waurika; Tom Dugger, R-Stillwater; Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee; Paul Scott, R-Duncan; Stanley; and Joe Newhouse, R-Broken Arrow.

GOP lawmakers also joined Democrats to kill legislation that would bring Oklahoma into compliance with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on workers’ rights.

Senate Bill 1724, by Dahm, would have required teachers to sign a document providing explicit authorization for union dues to be withheld from their paycheck.

Dahm said the legislation would bring Oklahoma into compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Janus” decision that held, “Neither an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from a nonmember’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.”

The Senate Education Committee rejected that bill on a 7-6 vote.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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