Equal Access for Teachers Organizations!

Bill DeSteph

by Chris Braunlich

Should Virginia teachers have equal access to any legitimate employee association offering professional support, insurance and other benefits, so they can find the best deal for their money?

Legislation introduced by Sen. William DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, SB1236, would give non-profit Virginia teacher associations an equal opportunity to make their pitch to teachers in every school division. It would end the practice in many school systems of providing monopoly access to politicized employee associations, notably the Virginia Education Association.

The issue is no trivial matter – not for the associations nor, especially, for the employees. In a litigious world, teachers – who regularly interact with underage minors, parents, colleagues, and powerful administrators – are especially in need of professional support and liability insurance providing legal protection. It is something they never want to use but know they need to have.

There are three teacher organizations providing broad-based member insurance in Virginia: The Virginia Education Association (VEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and Virginia Professional Educators (VPE).

The first two are unions; the third is not, and therein lies the difference. The AFT and VEA have local units; both engage heavily in political activity; both send a large portion of their dues money to the national union.

VPE, on the other hand, doesn’t add dues to support another layer of infrastructure at either the local or national level. Nor does it spend funds on political activity.

The result is that VPE’s dues are only $180 a year – about $300-$400 less than the two unions.

This allows VPE to make a financial case to prospective members: Saving $300 a year is like receiving a pay raise of nearly a half percent more, each and every year.

Just as important is the freedom from politics. Both the NEA and AFT are known as political extensions of the Democratic Party. As an example, of 289 candidates for Congress endorsed by the NEA last year, only 10, or 3.4 percent, were Republican. In Virginia, the odds are a little better: A whopping 12 percent of their endorsed candidates for General Assembly were Republican in 2017.

Yet, a Fall 2017 Education Week Research Center poll demonstrated that 27 percent of teachers considered themselves Republican, and that while half of teachers reported voting for Hillary Clinton, half did not:29 percent voted for Donald Trump, 13 percent voted for a third-party candidate and eight percent did not vote at all.

The mantra of “less cost, without the politics” is an attractive one to many and is one reason VPE is now the second largest teacher association in Virginia. This appears to unnerve the largest one.

Prospective employee associations are best able to approach prospective members if they are able to do things like set up tables at new employee orientations, or have access to teacher mailboxes at school or teacher email addresses.

In what can only be described as collusion to maintain a limited marketplace, many school superintendents, school boards and VEA leaders work in concert to block out competition.

In Virginia Beach, when equal access was just too much for the VEA to bear, it became (according to the VEA daily blog) “a local issue the Virginia Beach Education Association faced and fought off” … the school board change the rules to give access only to those who have a local organization – which would force the VPE to create the very bureaucracy they seek to avoid.

In another city with nearly 1,400 teachers, the HR Department gave permission for VPE to leave personalized material in each teacher’s mailbox only to be told after printing and distributing it to every school that “the new Superintendent doesn’t want to anger the VEA, so the permission is withdrawn.” These expensive materials were now wasted.

It is a frequent comment. In a state whose forebears declared their independence partly over a forced monopolistic trade with England, the most frequent refrain is, “The current teachers’ union would be upset if we let in someone else.” In other words: Don’t rock the boat, by ensuring a monopoly.

DeSteph’s bill, which passed the State Senate, requires local school divisions to provide equal access: If one teacher association is allowed to have a table at new employee orientations, all will. If one teacher association is given access to teacher mailboxes or teacher email address, all must. If one is denied, all must be denied. It would put all employee groups on an even playing field.

Which has sent the VEA into paroxysms of anguish. To them, DeSteph’s bill is unfair precisely because it would (a) put employee groups on a level playing field and (b) tell local school boards and superintendents they have to be fair in the way they treat their employee organizations.

Their arguments do not include what’s best for teachers … possibly because what is best for teachers would be having the right to save money by using a less expensive insurance plan. Nor should any teacher be forced to have their membership dues used to support candidates or political agendas which violate their own personal beliefs or political preferences. What’s best for teachers is not always in the best interests of the union.

“To govern is to choose,” said British politician Nigel Lawson. Legislators voting on this bill will be choosing: To side with teachers seeking a less expensive alternative? Or with union leaders granted a near-monopoly by many school systems at taxpayer expense? For equal access? Or for protectorates that block out competition?

Chris Braunlich is vice president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute. He previously served as president of the Virginia State Board of Education and as an eight-year member of the Fairfax County School Board. He may be reached at chris@thomasjeffersoninst.org. This column was published originally by the Thoms Jefferson Institute.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


15 responses to “Equal Access for Teachers Organizations!”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    YEAS–Black, Carrico, Chase, Cosgrove, DeSteph, Dunnavant, Hanger, McDougle, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Peake, Reeves, Ruff, Stanley, Stuart, Sturtevant, Suetterlein, Vogel, Wagner–20.
    NAYS–Barker, Boysko, Dance, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McPike, Petersen, Saslaw, Spruill, Surovell–19.

    There’s the Senate roll call. One GOP Senator, Chafin, did not vote. Otherwise, straight party line, as the Democrats defended the VEA against any competition. Prediction, the same outcome in the House, and then a gubernatorial veto. Just have to wonder who will be Governor…..

  2. Freedom of choice, and the transparency to know what to choose = a good libertarian position. Why are so few school administrators libertarians?

  3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    I am sympathetic to the arguments presented. But, as in most cases, I would like to hear the other side. Are there any arguments beyond protecting the dominance of the VEA?

  4. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Get real, you can’t expect Democrats to be pro-choice on every issue. Especially when it comes to labor unions.

  5. djrippert Avatar

    As you know, I am not a big fan of the General Assembly as an institution. However, there are a very few individual members who I respect. Three of those I respect happen to be among the NAYS – Deeds, Petersen and Surovell.

    I’d really like to read the explanations for their NAY vote.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Please, DJ, union dollars and union volunteers are as powerful, or more powerful an inducement than any corporate contributions. VEA gives money, endorsements, almost exclusively to one party. Is it only a REPUBLICAN Imperial Clown Show?

      In all seriousness, the discipline demanded and received by the left greatly exceeds what you see on the other side of the aisle. I sure never saw it for the Chamber, for example. The NRA has that kind of power over the GOP….but even that might not equal the unions. Unions say jump and Democrats say how high. I’d expect that naivete from Larry, not you….

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        re: ” Unions say jump and Democrats say how high”

        totally Grade A BS. If that were true – wouldn’t Virginia be more like many of the other states with real unions that can really strike instead of a right-to-work state.

        And hey, please tell me about ALEC and how they work in Virginia!!!

        1. Steve Haner Avatar
          Steve Haner

          One more election, Larry, just one more….geez, you are easier to goad that Trump. 😉

          As to ALEC, not the level of influence now that it had with Speaker Howell. Not that many legislators belong or attend, but that’s another story.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            are you saying there are no groups that influence the GOP anymore?

            LORD! don’t tell DOminion that!


      2. djrippert Avatar

        You are almost certainly right. I didn’t say they were clean on this. I said that I wanted to hear their explanation for their vote. How do you spin this?

        In addition to money and volunteers, I assume the majority of Virginia teachers are in the union and teachers (as the column points out) are heavily Democratic. Why piss off the base just to be honest and forthright? What I want to hear is how they spin those votes. Deeds has run unopposed for two of his last three state senate elections (he won the contested election in a landslide). He doesn’t need any money, volunteers or teacher votes to keep his seat. He’s also an honorable man in my opinion. He might not even spin the truth too much. I guess he could say, “The majority of my constituents who are teachers like it just the way it is.” He’d probably be right.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    Wait! Wait!… the “theory” here is that no one holds sway over the GOP like the unions do over the Dems? And I’m naive? WHOA!

    I just want to point out that for most unions there is just ONE representative. The workers vote to see who will be their bargaining agent.

    If you want to kill any/all unions – this would be the way…… just have multiple unions for each group of workers. Right?

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      I think the VEA would completely agree with that, Larry. Hence they fight so hard to get that party-line vote. Kill unions? No, but certainly weaken their monopoly, force them to compete for dues dollars.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Don’t you think if they used that rule for ALL unions that it would essentially destroy them if you had multiple unions representing the same workforce at a factory or other work location?

        ” Bargaining unit
        From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

        A bargaining unit, in labor relations, is a group of employees with a clear and identifiable community of interests who are (under U.S. law) represented by a single labor union in collective bargaining and other dealings with management. ”

        From NLRB: ”
        When a union is already in place, a competing union may file an election petition if the labor contract has expired or is about to expire, and it can show interest by at least 30% of the employees. This would normally result in a three-way election, with the choices being the incumbent labor union, the challenging one, and “none.” If none of the three receives a majority vote, a runoff will be conducted between the top two vote-getters”

        want to change the way that unions work?

        I bet the GOP and ALEC would… right? 😉

        So I’m not sure that the proposed bill is even legal at this point…. almost certainly would be litigated and of course all the various interest groups and think tanks would sign on.

        1. djrippert Avatar

          VPE isn’t a union. It’s a teachers’ association, like the American Bankers’ Association. Or like AARP I guess. They offer cost effective liability insurance but they don’t claim to be a union. As far as I can see they don’t negotiate contracts or make political contributions. Hard to see why they can’t sell their more cost effective liability insurance against the same product pitched by the unions. In fact, in a right to work state, I’d think it would be illegal to prevent them or hinder them from doing so. The current approach seems to be advertising that if you want liability insurance you have to join a union. That’s just not true.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            The VEA functions much like a union in that they DO bargain – but they are prevented from striking.

            To give you a for instance, VEA will represent a teacher in a disciplinary or termination of employment or other issues.

            It functions a lot like a police or fireman bargaining representative does.

            By the way – there are actually Government Unions – that are the exclusive bargaining agent for the workers – but they cannot strike.

            It’s an issue of whether or not of how many bargaining agents there can be and right now – in most all unions – there can be but one bargaining agent.

            And if that changed so that there could be multiple bargaining agents – how would issues involving ALL the employees get resolved? Would you have different rules for different employees depending on who their bargaining agent is?

            ya’ll need to think about this a little bit.

            If a bargaining agent comes to agreement with the employer over rules – there ends up one rule for all. What happens when you have multiple bargaining agents? Different rules for different employees depending on who their bargaining agent is?

Leave a Reply