As the 2017 Iowa legislative session continues, lawmakers will be debating collective bargaining for public employees.
How much input should public sector unions have with regard to their profession?
I am the leader of one of these unions; I lead the public school teachers in the Waukee School District. For the sake of our students, collective bargaining should be preserved.
Collective bargaining came about in the early ’70s under Republican Gov. Robert Ray. Before collective bargaining, teachers had only one recourse if they felt they were underpaid or were working in unfair conditions: they could strike. My mother, who remembers this well, told me that parents never knew when school would suspend for a week or two. As I teacher, I would never want to strike. However, at that time they had no other way to make their voices heard.
Here we are today, talking about something that’s been working for over 40 years. Why? Perhaps it is due to the misconception that bad teachers can’t be fired. Untrue. Other than language that defines how we will be evaluated, our contract doesn’t address firing. In fact, probationary teachers can be let go at the end of the school year without cause. Veteran teachers can also be fired. They are put on intensive assistance for one year, and if they don’t improve, the district has the legal right to terminate their contract.
Perhaps it is due to lawmakers who do not like teachers bargaining for health insurance. As a teacher, I receive single coverage that the district pays pretax. Employees pay the cost above single coverage in the majority of school districts across the state. It is a misconception to think that I get “free” insurance when others don’t? Insurance is part of my pay. When teachers settle a contract, and you hear that we received a 3 percent raise, that doesn’t mean that our salaries went up 3 percent. It means that between the additional costs of health insurance, FICA, and IPERS, as well as additional money for salary, the total package adds up to 3 percent. Many years, teachers received little, if any, raise to maintain insurance.
In addition, the Iowa State Education Association bargains 409 contracts statewide, all of which negotiate varying levels of health insurance. Some teachers pay as much as $1700 per month for full family coverage under their negotiated contracts. All of us, however, bargain a total package, so what you see as the total amount of our so called “raise” includes the insurance coverage we receive.
As most Iowans — especially those in rural districts — know, we have a teacher shortage. Iowa hasn’t even begun to experience it like Arizona, Wisconsin, or Texas. Therefore, it is vital to our profession and our state that we attract younger people to our profession. Soon, they will be the bulk of our teaching force. And they, unlike my generation, aren’t afraid to switch careers and seek something that suits them better. In fact, a majority of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years, a fact that attests to the intensity of work and relatively low pay.
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Without collective bargaining, we would no longer work under a binding contract, which means we could walk away from our jobs any time we chose. In Arizona, during the 2013-14 school year, 53 percent of districts had between one and five teachers resign midyear, according to a Washington Post article. The article continued by saying that the state had 938 teaching positions filled by substitutes. Because of their teacher shortage and budget problems, they are teaching class sizes of up to 40 students.
The future of Iowa’s education is in legislators’ hands. It’s in parents’ hands. Gov. Ray found a way to solve a problem over 40 years ago. Why would Republican legislators undo his good work and create a mess?
• Ann Hanigan is president of the Waukee Education Association