Senate Bill 82 Shows Utah Serious about Treating Teachers Fairly

Many Colorado schools and teachers impart to their pupils the importance of fairness, whether through formal lessons, classroom conversations, special events or codes of conduct. Meanwhile, school officials could glean some important ideas about fairness from legislation being considered by our western neighbors in Utah. The grassroots reformers at Parents for Choice in Education are supporting Senate Bill 82, which “strengthens the Equal Access law for all employee associations.”

What do they mean by “Equal Access”? Rather than trying to explain the problem that needs to be solved, I’ll just direct you to point number 8 in my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow’s 2011 issue backgrounder “Nine Key Changes at the Bargaining Table”:

Nearly all of Colorado’s existing certified education employee bargaining agreements grant union agents exclusive access to school district property, events or information that is denied to other union or non-union membership groups. Common provisions include specified union authorization to contact teachers through workplace mailboxes, bulletin boards and district email systems; or special privileges to use district facilities for meetings at no cost.

In 2007 Utah passed a law that required employee associations — whether union or non-union — to receive the same opportunities (aka Equal Access) to introduce themselves to, and to communicate with, teachers. But as a recent Association of American Educators press release explained, some groups have not been getting the equal treatment guaranteed under the law:

“As membership director, I focus on letting teachers know there is a professional, non-partisan choice in Utah with the Association of American Educators, said [AAE Utah Membership Director] Charity Smith. “Time and time again doors have been shut in districts throughout Utah in favor of the union. We are simply asking for all associations to be granted equal access to teachers and for districts to be held accountable for violating the law.”

Ms. Smith outlined various equal access violations, including repeated ignored requests to speak to educators at new teacher orientation meetings, and limited time to speak to teachers in other districts when the union was given unlimited access. Ms. Smith described many unanswered requests and unequal treatment as clear violations of current Utah law.

As introduced, SB 82 would make a couple key changes. Employee associations would register their contact information with the state education department so individual schools wouldn’t be burdened with keeping track. However, it also would add teeth to the law by imposing specified fines on schools and officials that do not comply. And employees recruited to join an association when Equal Access isn’t provided would be entitled to a full refund of dues if they want.

Maybe I’m missing something, but such a policy change just seems fair. Now if only someone in Colorado was paying attention. Hey, a kid can dream, can’t he?…