A new report published by the Pelican Institute, a Louisiana think tank, reveals a series of detrimental, hypocritical, and possibly illegal deals brokered between teachers unions and several public school systems—including clauses giving teachers who have kids school choice opportunities that other parents can’t access.
Six Louisiana school systems and two New Orleans charter schools annually broker bargaining agreements between Louisiana teachers’ unions and the school system, regulating school policy and teacher behavior. These collective bargaining agreements, like most around the country, are made in secret.
The Pelican Institute has just released several findings from these secret collective bargaining agreements. These agreements, made on behalf of teachers whether they are in the union or not, restrict what teachers and administrators can do to determine how the school operates and only allow teachers to leave the union during a specific window.
Four parishes in Louisiana have brokered collective bargaining agreements with teachers unions that provide the unions exclusive time during the year to recruit new members—specifically during faculty meetings and new teacher orientation. Additionally, the Pelican Institute found that unions were given exclusive access to distribute literature and use the schools’ email systems.
In St. Tammany Parish, the brokered collective bargaining agreement not only gives the union access to teachers’ time, space, and resources—but forbids any outside organization from using teachers’ time or accessing school space and resources.
No third party, other than the teachers union, is allowed to “distribute literature, place messages on the email system, have presentation time at orientation, use school facilities, or post messages on a school bulletin board.”
St. Tammany Parish also agrees to give the unions an annual list of new faculty for targeted recruitment.
These collective bargaining agreements also forbid teachers who are a part of the union from leaving the union except during a “very narrow window” each year. In St. John Parish, teachers may only resign from the union from the beginning of the academic year to Sept. 1. In Vermilion Parish, teachers are limited to resigning from the union from the beginning of the academic year to Aug. 1. St. Bernard Parish teachers only have “the first 10 working days of school” to leave the union, and St. Tammany Parish only allows teachers to leave the union in July.
If teachers don’t resign during those incredibly small windows, they will be fined another year of dues. According to Louisiana State Superintendent Cade Brumley, that can range from $200 to well over $600 per year.
This may not be entirely legal. In Janus vs. AFSCME (2018), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that unions may not force employees to retain membership or pay dues. Courts have struck down these “resignation windows” in states like Michigan.
Sarah Harbison, author of the Pelican Institute report, told The Daily Signal that she’s looking for a Louisiana teacher who would be interested in suing the union over forcing what she called the “unconstitutional drop window” requirement.
The Pelican Institute’s most damning discovery involves a form of school choice for teachers with kids that is not available to other parents in two school districts.
Under current Louisiana state law, Louisiana families are only allowed to move their children from “a failing school to a higher performing public school,” severely limiting school choice and parental preference. In the collective bargaining agreements for St. Bernard and Vermilion parishes, however, teachers are granted the opportunity to “select a different school that fits their children,” including non-public schools.
Why is that particularly damning?
A bill to expand school choice in Louisiana via education savings accounts would have extended funding for all parents to send their students to a school of their choice. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, however, vetoed the measure twice. Both the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (the state affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers) and the Louisiana Association of Educators (the state affiliate of the National Education Association) repeatedly endorsed him.
The unions also lobby consistently and passionately against expanding to parents the same school choice opportunities that their St. Bernard and Vermilion Parish members enjoy. The Pelican Institute report dubs this policy “School Choice for Me but Not for Thee.”
Harbison told The Daily Signal that she believed these contracts further illustrate the unions’ dedication to themselves, not children:
Schools exist for the sake of kids, not for the sake of unions. Instead of unions focusing on serving their own ends, we should all focus on how to make education better for our children—and that means ensuring that every kid gets a school that fits.
The Pelican Institute has proposed eight recommendations for the Louisiana Legislature to ensure teachers unions aren’t brokering backroom deals with parishes at the expense and against the wishes of Louisiana teachers, parents, and students:
- Allowing union members to end their membership and stop dues payments at any time.
- Requiring employers to provide employees with an annual notice of their First Amendment right to join—or not join—a union and pay dues.
- Allowing union members to submit their dues authorization or membership resignation directly to their employer, rather than through the union.
- Requiring the employer to verify the authenticity of the dues authorization or membership resignation.
- Require unions to undergo retention elections when collective bargaining agreements expire to determine whether a majority of bargaining unit members still want a union.
- Passing universal education savings accounts.
- Ensuring that teachers and school employees can hear from all organizations that provide benefits to teachers.
- Require unions to provide members with an annual accounting of dues that informs them about the candidates, policies, legislation, or political parties their dues support.
The Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators did not respond to The Daily Signal’s requests for comment by time of publication.
Of the parishes mentioned, only Superintendent Tommy Beyler of Vermilion Parish Schools responded to The Daily Signal’s request for comment—promising to immediately investigate the legality of unions’ forbidding teachers to leave the union outside of August.