Jay Chilton | May 8, 2017
Okmulgee Public School teachers drop OEA, elect new representative
By Jay Chilton, CIJ
On May 2 the certified teachers of Okmulgee Public Schools elected Professional Okmulgee Educators to serve as their new bargaining representative over the local affiliate of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA). The vote was 52 to 32.
“We won the election to decertify the union in Okmulgee,” said Ginger Tinney, executive director of Professional Oklahoma Educators (POE), the statewide organization affiliated with Professional Okmulgee Educators. “It was a hard-fought battle with the union.”
The Okmulgee County Election Board oversaw the voting process at two Okmulgee school sites. The Okmulgee Board of Education will now recognize the Professional Okmulgee Educators as the exclusive bargaining representative for the teachers in the district as required by Oklahoma law.
“One thing I love about POE is that we do not use untruths or intimidation or fear to build our membership,” Tinney said.
POE legal staff and other staff members held multiple informational meetings for Okmulgee educators in the weeks leading up to the vote, Tinney said. Professional Oklahoma Educators regional education professional Jeanette Taylor and Deanna Richison, president of Professional Okmulgee Educators, were also present to provide answers and information.
CIJ contacted the Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, for comment following the vote in Okmulgee. The organization has not responded.
POE is a non-union, nonprofit professional organization that serves teachers, administrators, and other public education employees at both the common and higher education levels. POE is a direct competitor to union teacher representation and claims to value cooperation with school districts rather than conflict. The organization does not endorse or make contributions to political candidates or causes and believes it is wrong for teachers to strike or walk out of the classroom.
The Okmulgee Board of Education and Professional Okmulgee Educators will negotiate a new procedural agreement to establish a process for future negotiations. According to Professional Okmulgee Educators, the organization plans to propose a collaborative communication model with the intent to offer teachers, administrators, and school board members greater flexibility during discussions.
Tinney said she is encouraged by the Okmulgee vote. “This just goes to show that the union is losing power,” she said. “Teachers are starting to see a different way to do business.”
Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency reported last year that the OEA had lost 20 percent of its active members over the previous five years.
The Okmulgee election notwithstanding, votes on union representation remain a rare occurrence in Oklahoma. Tinney said she is disappointed that the Oklahoma legislature seems to lack the resolve to guarantee frequent elections. She cited House Bill 1767, which would have allowed Oklahoma teachers to vote at least every five years to continue or to decertify union representation. If a representing organization failed to earn 50 percent support, new representation would be contracted.
The bill passed 5-3 in the General Government Oversight and Accountability Committee but was not heard on the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
A recent statewide survey found strong support for the idea. The firm Cor Strategies asked 503 likely Oklahoma voters: “Do you agree that Oklahoma school employees who are represented by a labor union should be allowed to vote every five years to decide whether they want to be represented by that union?”
Sixty-seven percent of respondents agree, while 13 percent disagree.
The survey, which was commissioned by OCPA, was conducted from March 29 through March 31, 2017. The margin of error is plus-minus 4.37 percent.
Jay Chilton is a multiple-award-winning photojournalist including the Oklahoma Press Association’s Photo of the Year in 2013. His previous service as an intelligence operative for the U.S. Army, retail and commercial sales director, oil-field operator and entrepreneur in three different countries on two continents and across the U.S. lends a wide experience and context helping him produce well-rounded and complete stories. Jay’s passion is telling stories. He strives to place the reader in the seat, at the event, or on the sideline allowing the reader to experience an event through his reporting. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma with a minor in photographic arts. Jay and his wife live in Midwest City with three dogs and innumerable koi enjoying frequent visits from their children.