Union Interests Under AttackIn Statehouses
Beginning this summer, the Indiana State Teachers' Association will no longer have the ability to bargain with school districts for the right to collect fees from nonunion members.
The "fair share" clauses that allow the teachers' union to charge nonmembers put about half a million dollars into its coffers each year. The fees are only a small part of a $13 million budget, but the union has fought to preserve them many times in court.
Indiana's G.O.P.-controlled legislature thought it was time to end the practice, however. Last month, lawmakers overturned a veto by Gov. Evan Bayh, a Democrat, and enacted the measure repealing the fair-share provisions.
In state after state, the story is the same: Republican governors and lawmakers are bombarding the teachers' unions who have long used their million-dollar warchests and grassroots organizations to hold Republicans at bay. Now that they have won control, conservative majorities are going after fair-share agreements, collective-bargaining rights, teacher tenure, and other laws that strike at the heart of teachers' unions' interests.
Not all of the proposals are new. But this year, they have appeared with a force and frequency that suggests their supporters are not going to back down.
'We Feel Besieged'
"We certainly do feel besieged here," said Annette Palutis, the president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which faces legislative measures that would, among other things, penalize teachers for striking.
"Every time you turn around, there's something new," she added.
Last month, a newsletter for the National Education Association leadership said the recent activity in the states proves a point: Conservative lawmakers and other state officials are out to shatter the unions' influence.
"Right-wing lawmakers are proposing legislation to weaken our voice on the job," the union asserted, adding that most of the measures are designed to remove obstacles to "market-oriented reforms" like school vouchers and privatization.
Lawmakers in places like Michigan--where the once-invincible state teachers' union has faced several defeats at the hands of a Republican Governor and legislature--disagree. (See related story .)
Sen. Dick Posthumus, the Republican majority leader in the Michigan Senate, said the state's N.E.A. affiliate should have seen the writing on the wall.
The union "has played hardball politically for the past six to eight years," Mr. Posthumus said. "I think there's been a radicalization of the union. That's even reflected nationally."
Some of the bills moving in state legislatures do not target teachers' unions specifically, but rather deal(See education issues in general, union officials say. However, many of the measures would have a profound impact on teacher organizations.
In several states, governors and legislators have moved to abolish or amend teacher-tenure laws--a move the unions claim would strip their due-process rights. (See related story