We noted a growing schism between teachers unions and their formerly reliable Democratic Party allies recently. Add another usual Big Labor backer saying Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has gone too far: The Washington Post editorial board — which had demanded a “compromise” card-check bill in 2009 — is not happy with the obstinacy of AFT’s D.C. local, the Washington Teachers Union (WTU):
Giving public school students more instruction time is a priority of D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson. She set aside $5.1 million in next year’s budget for the effort. But, as The Post’s Emma Brown reported, the union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, is blocking the initiative by urging teachers not to approve the change and by preventing the issue from coming to a vote.
Let’s emphasize that last point: The union that is supposed to represent the interest of teachers won’t allow a vote in which teachers would decide for themselves, school by school, if they want a longer school day that would benefit students and for which they would be paid. A provision in the teachers’ contract, which expired in 2012 but is in force until a new agreement is reached, allows individual schools to adopt nontraditional scheduling if two-thirds of teachers approve.
Similar to the SEIU’s “don’t vote” plan for a Las Vegas hospital workers’ contract, WTU won’t let its members take votes authorized by the D.C. collective bargaining agreement to extend the school day. The Post editors fear that decision might hurt students and teachers.
The Post additionally reports that the union president says WTU is “being cautious not to be [a roadblock] to reform,” which only leads one to ask what the union might unleash if it tried to block reform openly. If Washington’s AFT looks anything like the national union, those efforts might include blocking new charter schools, fighting to reverse teacher accountability reforms, or lashing out at political leaders who fix pensions that could bankrupt states or cities. History — the WTU famously unmade respected former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s political patron, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty, in 2010 — doesn’t suggest that the union will behave any differently.
As much as Randi might complain about Democrats like former Obama aides Robert Gibbs and Ben LaBolt — to say nothing of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who called the recent Vergara v. California decision that vitiated that state’s coddling teacher tenure laws “a mandate” — siding with reformers against archaic teacher union-backed work rules, the ship of reform has sailed. Efforts like WTU’s no-vote policy are going to get rightly criticized from all sides.