An affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and a nonunion teachers’ group are waging a fight in the Utah legislature against what they say is the Utah Education Association’s “monopolistic” hold over schools that is keeping other groups from reaching out to potential members.
Legislation wending its way through the House and the Senate would make access to recruits easier.
The teachers’ groups recount instances in which they say they were either forced to play second fiddle to the 18,000-member National Education Association affiliate, by far the largest teachers’ union in the state, or denied access to new hires in UEA-dominated districts. Also, they say, they do not get a chance to represent their members on school committees.
Debbie White, the president of AFT Utah, said her locals are sometimes not included by school districts at new-teacher orientations. When they are, she added, they get minimal access, compared with the UEA.
In another instance, she said, one district allowed the UEA to provide breakfast for new hires, while all that her union got was a table to the side. Such treatment, she added, puts AFT Utah at a disadvantage.
New hires “should be able to have the information to make up their minds,” Ms. White said.
Officials of the nonunion Utah Council of Educators, a self-described nonpartisan professional teachers’ association, cite similar instances of what they contend is strong-arming by the UEA.
“What they’ve done is put their hands into teachers’ mailboxes and pulled out mailings from other organizations,” charged David Barrett, the president of the UTCE.
But UEA officials dismiss the charges as baseless.
Kim Campbell, the president of the UEA, said her union over the past decades has worked with all the state’s school districts to get bargaining rights. Thanks to the UEA’s efforts, she said, all groups enjoy open access to new hires during the recruitment period.
“We have been here and grown and created these agreements,” she said.
Alternatives for Teachers
As membership in teachers’ unions has risen, groups like the Association of American Educators, the national parent of the UTCE, have also made inroads among educators reluctant to join unions for personal, political, or religious reasons.
The Mission Viejo, Calif.-based AAE, founded a decade ago, has 13 state affiliates and offers teachers “an alternative to the partisan politics and noneducational agendas of the teacher labor unions,” according to its Web site.
Mr. Barrett said his state affiliate has been around for just six months and already has nearly 1,000 members. If it had better access to teachers, he maintained, that number would be much higher.
“One organization cannot possibly represent the view of all teachers,” he said.
Sen. Mark B. Madsen, the Republican who sponsored the original bill, said in his testimony before a Senate committee earlier this month that his mother-in-law is a teacher in Idaho and chooses not to belong to the NEA’s state affiliate there.
“I can understand why some folks might want to choose alternatives to the NEA or the UEA,” he said.
With his bill, Mr. Madsen said, he wanted to require districts to give all teacher groups equal access to teachers. While it passed in the Senate earlier this month, the measure was replaced by a substitute bill in the House after some lawmakers raised concerns that it could be interpreted to mean schools would have to bargain with multiple entities. Action on the substitute has been postponed, and the bill will have to be reconsidered by both chambers, but observers say it has a strong chance of passing.
Mr. Barrett said he is not happy with the language in the substitute bill, which would give equal access only to other teachers’ unions—in this case, the AFT affiliate, which has 1,000 members in Utah—and not to nonunion groups like the UTCE. His association intends to continue pressuring the bill’s sponsors to return to the original version.
The Utah School Boards Association, which opposed the original bill but is in favor of the substitute, denied allegations that districts play favorites with the UEA.
“In my experience, we treat them all the same in the orientation program,” said Steven H. Peterson, the associate executive director of the USBA. “You would find that through all the districts.”
A version of this article appeared in the February 28, 2007 edition of Education Week as Flap Over UEA’s ‘Monopolistic’ Ways Fuels Utah Bill