Indiana House panel advances measure on teacher unions
By DARCY COSTELLO
Mar. 21, 2017
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers are considering a measure that requires state officials to publicize the percentage of teachers who are union members and, in some cases, inform them that they can get rid of or change that representation.
Supporters contend the bill is an effort to make the process of changing representation more transparent for teachers. But opponents view it as an "unnecessary" proposal and another move against unions in a state that already has a right-to-work law on the books curtailing union power.
"I have no problem with transparency, but I don't think this is an issue of transparency," said Democratic state Rep. Vernon Smith. "I think it's an issue of trying to diminish the impact of unions."
Under Republican state Sen. Erin Houchin's proposal, information on the number of teachers who are union members would be available on the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board web site. IEERB officials would notify teachers "each school year" that the union membership figure drops below 50 percent of total teachers in a bargaining unit, and inform them of their right to representation and "the ability to change their exclusive representative" under existing law.
The process for triggering a representation election in a school district is set out in statute and information on the number of union members in a school district is already accessible for interested parties via a FOIA request or often, bill opponents said, an inquiry placed with a superintendent.
"I can't for the life of me figure out why they want to do this, other than just stir things up," Indiana State Teachers Association president Teresa Meredith told The Associated Press. "They're trying to disrupt (unions) and cause some waves."
Supporters say some teachers unhappy with their representation don't know their rights or how to change things.
"This is nothing but making the process a little more transparent for teachers so that the teachers can have the best option available for them," State Rep. Jerry Torr, a Republican from Carmel, said Tuesday.
A House education panel approved the bill 7-4 in a party line vote Tuesday. It previously passed the Senate and now advances to the full House for consideration.
In addition to notification when membership drops below 50 percent, the proposal calls for a summer study committee to examine an unrelated federal law and directs the IEERB website to include instructional material about changing representation — in addition to the percentage of teachers who are union members.
Proponents argued Tuesday that making that data public was essential for teachers interested in a change but fearful of retaliation.
Democratic lawmakers and bill opponents brushed that reasoning aside, saying unions often work with non-members cooperatively and willingly.
Unions, like lawmakers, do their best for the entire body they represent, said Sally Sloan of Indiana's branch of the American Federation of Teachers.
"We're not the enemy," Sloan said. "Teachers are not — teachers and their unions — because unions are made up of teachers," Sloan said.