Monday, March 15, 2021

OCPA column: Prioritizing free speech for teachers


Prioritizing free speech for teachers
By Jonathan Small

How important is the right of free speech to you? To some, but fortunately not all, lawmakers, it’s not even worth a piece of paper and an email.

The nation’s two major teachers’ unions—the National Education Association and the American Federation for Teachers—both support many far-left political causes and candidates, including abortion on demand. As a result, the dues paid by members of those unions ultimately support those political causes.

Yet many teachers—including thousands in Oklahoma—do not support left-wing political causes. And the U.S. Supreme Court, in its 2018 decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, ruled that employees cannot be forced to participate.

Partly in response to that ruling, Sen. Julie Daniels has filed Senate Bill 634, which would require schools to get annual reauthorization for union-dues withholding from employees. The bill requires that schools provide teachers with a form to sign each year that notes employees “have a First Amendment right, as recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court, to refrain from joining and paying dues or making political contributions to a professional employee organization” and that they cannot be discriminated against it they choose not to join a union.

Under the bill, schools would also have to separately verify a teacher’s wishes by email when possible.

The bill literally requires nothing more than a single piece of paper and an email to determine if teachers wish to have union dues deducted from their paychecks. The process could take literally just one or two minutes to complete for most teachers.

Yet opponents decry the legislation as an excessive paperwork burden for schools and unions. This is nonsense, but even if the proposed reauthorization process was more extensive, the value of free-speech rights far outweighs any associated “burden” caused by this compliance effort.

And those who doubt teachers are pressured to join unions and pay dues should note comments made by Sen. Jessica Garvin during debate. Garvin said she had “teachers in my district that have reached out and said that they felt discriminated against because they asked for a waiver to opt out.”

Providing one small safeguard to help such teachers is not unreasonable. Sadly, even though the bill passed in the Senate, 12 Republicans senators joined Democrats in opposition, which is a reminder that a Republican registration doesn’t always mean a lawmaker will vote like a conservative.

Notably, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), the state’s NEA affiliate, tweeted its opposition to the bill, declaring, “Out-of-state interests are pushing this membership red tape to stop #oklaed from organizing!”

If requiring the willing participation of teachers means a union can’t “organize” in Oklahoma, that’s not a reason to oppose the bill, but proof of the need for its passage.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

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