The Washington Education Association (WEA) boasts that its top priority is, “…standing up for Washington students.” By all indications, however, student welfare ranks much farther down on the list – assuming it shows up at all.
Like all unions, Job No. 1 is expanding the power of the union and lining the pockets of its leaders.
Beyond that, WEA collects $70 million in dues annually to advocate for higher pay, lighter workloads, lower expectations and greater job security for its dues-paying members.
Each of these objectives has its negative impact on student services, but the WEA’s ability to guarantee job security reached the point of absurdity, as a story published recently in the Seattle Times shows all too vividly. In a story headlined, “Ex-teaching aide kept job despite poor review,” the union’s true influence – and motives – were laid bare.
Seattle Public Schools evaluated an employee with the lowest possible scores in the 2016-17 school year. The district “followed progressive disciplinary steps to address the absences, tardiness and indications of an alcohol problem.”
Ultimately, the district had enough evidence to fire him, and did so last summer.
The union responded by filing a grievance against the district, which was settled by reinstating the slacker in question.
Until he was fired again amidst a police investigation for child rape at Jon Muir Elementary.
Why don’t bad actors get removed?
Any sufficiently sized barrel is going to include a few bad apples – who are entitled to due process and fairness. But families also have a right to expect swift, unequivocal action to protect their children.
What we’ve created instead are processes dominated by a union with an interest in making certain job security outweighs all other interests.
For teachers, the first provision is a state law which grants a presumption of ongoing employment for certificated employees after a three-year “provisional status” period. After that, the law requires “probable cause” before any adverse action may be taken.
Next the union negotiates a collective bargaining provision with the school board to establish the process management must follow for evaluating, disciplining and, if possible, firing. If any step in the union-sought process is botched, the union can successfully neutralize action district managers take with a grievance leading to a state hearing on unfair labor practice.
The expense of this obstructionism is commonly borne by taxpayers.
Meanwhile, students are trapped in “employee-first” schools by a union that demands a monopoly approach to schools and has the infrastructure in place to ensure it gets what it wants.
School Boards can take steps to protect students by standing up to the union.
Teacher contracts, negotiated in secret with unions seeking only the job security of employees are, by definition, indifferent to student welfare. What other explanation is there for contract that prevented the Seattle School District from ridding itself of an employee who –at best – was rough with students and showed up smelling of alcohol?
One simple remedy is a clearly stated “automatic probable cause” provision. While the contracts commonly describe a lengthy process of “progressive discipline” requiring multiple documented offenses before an employee can be fired, a contract could specify some automatic disqualifiers. If the contract in Seattle said that being drunk in the morning at school or putting special education students in a headlock was automatic “probable cause,” they could move straight to dismissal.
Another solution would be a district custom of fighting hard to protect students rather than settling with unions to avoid the cost of conflict. WEA has the power to threaten high district legal bills if a district declines to settle with one of its members.
Seattle Public Schools did not need to reinstate an employee about whom their own principal said, “I cannot support his return to any school setting.”
Employees are trapped, too.
Employees do need an advocate on occasion. However, the current system treats the control and payment for workplace assistance services like a fiefdom that the government grants to the union special interest group as a monopoly.
Union members often contact the Freedom Foundation to complain about the poor quality or capricious nature of the workplace services they receive. This is to be expected in a monopoly.
Currently, union activists are even threatening to refuse to serve those who opt out of the union. These individuals are not allowed to secure their own help, because the union has a state-granted franchise to be the exclusive representative. Such a threat of refusing to serve violates the law requiring service to all in the bargaining unit, but the state has no regulations governing the quality of union services.
It looks surprisingly like a protection racket.
Teachers need more options for getting these needs met, and perhaps the growth of alternative professional associations like Northwest Professional Educators and Christian Educators Association will grow into a wide array of service providers to assist.