Education , Law & Principles

Ray Carter | February 20, 2024

Oklahoma lawmakers seek to protect teachers from union pressure

Ray Carter

Oklahoma school officials would be prohibited from pressuring teachers to participate in union activities under legislation that has advanced from the Senate Education Committee.

“I want to emphasize that we should treat our teachers as the professionals they are,” said state Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville.

Under Senate Bill 1513, by Daniels, officials at Oklahoma public schools would be prohibited from “coercing school district employees to meet, communicate, listen to, or otherwise interact with an employee organization or statewide professional educators’ association” or from distributing union materials to teachers.

The legislation would also prohibit school officials from granting teacher-union leaders “access to or use of the school district’s meetings, events, facilities, communications systems, computer systems, equipment, supplies, or other resources on terms more favorable than extended to any other employee organization or statewide professional educators’ association seeking similar access or use.”

State Sen. Carri Hicks, an Oklahoma City Democrat who was a teacher and union member, attacked the bill as a “solution in search of a problem” and predicted it would negatively impact unions and other teacher associations.

“I think that this has a chilling effect on any professional associations,” Hicks said.

She also dismissed concerns about teacher coercion by union officials.

“I’ve never seen anything that would lead me to believe that folks in school buildings are being coerced to listen to presentations,” Hicks said.

But Daniels said there are instances where teachers are forced to attend union presentations.

“I certainly have a personal example some years ago with a family member working for a particular school district where they were required—even though they were not joining an employee organization—to be present and listen to presentations from that organization,” Daniels said.

State Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, noted that teacher unions previously officed union staff within school buildings in some districts.

“They reimbursed the school for that (union) employee’s salary, but that employee stayed on the (state) pension system and they were in the building every day,” Paxton said. “They had offices in the school.”

He noted lawmakers had to pass a new law to ban that practice and suggested that the situation highlights how much authority some union officials have been granted in various public schools, which can translate into pressure on teachers to participate in union events.

SB 1513 passed the Senate Education Committee on an 11-2 vote that broke along party lines with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed. The bill now proceeds to the floor of the Oklahoma Senate.

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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