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Education & Labor Reform Legislation Progress
posted by: Alix | April 18, 2011, 05:57 PM   

As the legislative session moves full steam ahead, states across the country are proceeding with legislation that seeks to curb union power and implement broad education reform. While the developments in Wisconsin and Ohio have seen the most heated debate, there are a total of 729 bills currently pending in 48 states dealing with unions and collective bargaining, according to a database compiled by the non-partisan National Conference of State Legislatures. While not every state is making national headlines, the sheer volume proves that we are witnessing a monumental shift in union power that we haven't seen in generations.

Florida- Last month, Governor Rick Scott signed a performance-pay law for teachers that also ends tenure for new hires. The legislation was just the start of education and labor bills moving through the legislature. A new bill currently pending would strip unions of their bargaining privileges if they fall below a certain level of membership.

Just last week, a Senate panel backed off legislation that seeks to ban Florida's public employee unions from collecting dues through payroll deductions. The bill that cleared the Rules Committee on Friday, however, would prohibit using those dues for political purposes, such as funding campaigns. It also would still require unions to get written consent from individual members to use dues collected through other means for political purposes.

Senate Bill 830 goes to the Senate next. The House already has passed House Bill 1021 which would ban union dues via payroll deductions.

Wisconsin- While the union law in Wisconsin has been temporarily shelved, the state continues to be ground zero for the union debate in this country. This weekend, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin traveled to Wisconsin to support a tea-party-led rally in favor of the controversial law.

"This is where the line has been drawn in the sand and I'm glad to stand with you in solidarity," Palin told her supporters in the crowd. Capitol Police estimated about 6,500 people converged on the building Saturday, but did not indicate how many favored either side of the debate.

Ohio- The effort to repeal Senate Bill 5 is still underway in Ohio. A coalition of public employee unions have vowed to collect signatures to force a referendum on November's ballot, effectively stopping the measure in its tracks.

Experts estimate the campaign to repeal Senate Bill 5 will cost between $25 and $40 million, which caused the Ohio Education Association to consider an additional mandatory fee of $50 per member to help in their efforts to stop the law. While the campaign is gaining momentum, the climate in support of labor seems to be on the decline. Only 13.7 percent of working Ohioans now belong to unions, according to U.S. Labor Department statistics. That's down from almost 19 percent in 1997 and about 30 percent in the late 1950s.

California- While California is not facing legislation that would curb union power, like the rest of the country they are facing monumental budget shortfalls. In an effort to combat the inevitable cuts to the education budget, The California Teachers Association, the state's largest teachers union, is planning a week of activities in May to lobby the legislator for higher taxes.

Last week the CTA posted a 10-page list of potential activities on its website. Ideas included stalking legislators for a day; boycotting corporations like Microsoft that advocate for education reform; attempting to close down major roads; dying their hair red; holding night-time vigils with coffins and black arm-bands; picketing companies; and withdrawing funds from banks that "are not paying their fair share of taxes. They also planned to work with Ben & Jerry's to create a labor-union-flavored ice cream.

Illinois- The Illinois Senate passed a sweeping education reform bill on Friday in a 59-0 vote. Ultimately the bill will bring education reform to schools across the state and will put more power into the hands of school administrators on local levels. Senate Bill 7 would make it much more difficult for teachers to strike under teachers' unions' direction and it would also make it easier to let go poor performing teachers.

The bill will be sent to the House next week for final approval. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has also showed support for the bill and is expected to sign into law following the House vote.

Idaho- NEA president Dennis Van Roekel challenged Idaho union teachers to "stand up and fight back" against public schools chief Tom Luna and his education reform law meant to keep "children first".

They took a first step Friday, with more than 550 union teachers unanimously voting to move forward with a referendum on repealing the reform laws. That vote could be on the 2012 ballot if they receive the total required signatures.

While the presence of such a high profile union figure is rare in Idaho, the state department of education argued, "Nothing in these bills prevents teachers from working with their local teacher association. In fact, many parts of the bill will ask for teacher input."

Indiana- The Indiana House on Friday approved a bill prohibiting contracts between school districts and teachers unions from including anything other than wages and wage-related benefits, in a severe blow to union power in the state.

Representative Robert Behning, said the collective bargaining limits were aimed at giving school administrators and school boards the flexibility to make decisions on running the districts without being bound by union negotiated contracts. Behning argued that this bill gives the opportunity for "education leaders to lead."

Don't see your state listed? Check the National Conference of State Legislatures database for timely updates and be sure to read AAE's daily blogs.

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