Lawmaker Proposes Ending Teacher Collective Bargaining

By John Celock

A Kansas state legislator has proposed legislation that would allow teachers to opt out of the collective bargaining process conducted by the state teachers union.

State Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) introduced a bill Wednesday that would give teachers the ability to negotiate their own contracts with local school systems, potentially dealing a blow to the Kansas National Education Association which currently handles negotiations for all public school teachers in the state. Claeys’ legislation is similar to a bill that was unsuccessfully discussed by lawmakers in 2013.

“The union doesn’t represent nearly half the teachers in the state,” Claeys told The Celock Report. “Those teachers deserve the opportunity to decouple themselves from a union contract if they so choose. This is for the teachers who don’t want to be associated with the union or its contract.”

Claeys was referencing the state’s right to work law that allows employees to opt of union membership. Under the law though, teachers still participate under the contract negotiated by the union.

Claeys, a second term lawmaker, said that he believes the current system is causing teachers to leave Kansas. He said making the change would have a positive influence on the state.

“We are having our best teachers poached from nearby states due to districts focusing on bloated administration and unions focusing on self-preservation to the detriment of good teachers,” he said. “The legislation allows more flexibility to keep our best teachers in Kansas and attract the best and brightest from out of state. The union simply wants to maintain control over the contracts of teachers, who aren’t even members, so they can justify their existence.

The 2013 bill received a hearing by the state House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee but did not pass out of the committee. Claeys said he believes it can pass the commerce committee this year.

This bill comes a day after Claeys introduced legislation that would require local school districts to conduct all contract negotiations with the teachers union in open public meetings, along with requiring all documents used during the negotiation process to be open public records. Several districts in the state already conduct the negotiations in open sessions.

KNEA communications director Marcus Baltzell told The Celock Report that the union has to review the contents of Claeys’ legislation but noted that they believe that Claeys is pushing an agenda.

“We’ll have to review the bill. I’d say in regards to J.R. Claeys in particular, he’s clearly printing ALEC bills and putting them up,” Baltzell said. “To rehash a bill that was found to be ineffective we’re going to be focused on what works. We’re not wasting taxpayer time like he is.”

Baltzell was referring to the open contract negotiation bill being similar to model legislation offered by the American Legislative Exchange Council. Claeys said Tuesday that he did not know the bill was ALEC model legislation.

Noting that local school districts currently have the option of open contract negotiation meetings, Baltzell questioned if Claeys is researching his proposals.

“I don’t think he knows these laws are there,” he said. “He is just throwing bills out to injure 23,000 Kansas teachers.”

In 2013, the KNEA was outspoken against the bill, saying it could set back labor relations for teachers in the state and harm the schools.

Baltzell said that the KNEA reviews all bills proposed during the legislative session and then decides what fits the union’s beliefs and legislative agenda. He said that he believes Claeys has a “personal attack agenda against Kansas teachers.” Noting that he believes that Claeys has an ulterior motive, he called on the Salina lawmaker to “practice what he preaches.”

“We wish he would be more transparent himself and open in the way he representing the people of Kansas,” Baltzell said.

Claeys said any attack he is making is not on teachers.

“I’m definitely attacking KNEA with freedom and transparency,” Claeys said. “But as far as harming teachers, like my mother, this does not.”

Claeys’ mother is a long time Catholic schoolteacher in Salina.

He noted that he believes teachers will back his bill if it passes.

“KNEA is rightfully concerned that many teachers will choose not to be a party to their contract or the union,” Claeys said.