National union leaders will rally members in Los Angeles this weekend to oppose a recent court ruling that struck down key teacher job protections in the state.
The American Federation of Teachers, at its national convention, will vote on a resolution that condemns the motivation behind Vergara v. California as well as Harris v. Quinn, in which the U.S. Supreme Court limited the right of unions to collect dues from non-members who are represented by unions in contract negotiations.
“Anti-union, anti-worker groups are challenging our voting, political and collective bargaining rights while anti-public education forces have made a concerted effort to undercut fairness for our students, families and communities, capitalizing on the shared frustration with the inequities in our economy and our schools to divide our communities,” the resolution said in part.
The court decisions “are contributing to an escalating and engineered imbalance in our democracy, one where corporations and the wealthy have a dominant voice,” it said.
The union vows a concerted counter-effort “at the ballot box and the bargaining table, in the streets, Washington, D.C., and state capitals, in the courthouse and the court of public opinion.”
Teachers unions have said they will appeal the Vergara ruling.
The prevailing side in Vergara was funded by Students Matter, a Silicon Valley-based group focused on litigation that advances its vision of education reform.
L.A. Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled last month that several job protections for teachers violated the state constitution. He threw out the state's tenure process, stripped teachers of rules that made dismissing them more difficult and expensive, and he eliminated using seniority as the primary factor in deciding which teachers to lay off.
He said these practices resulted in greater numbers of ineffective teachers, disproportionately harming poor and minority students.
“This court decision has to be fought because it invalidates protections that are very important for people as opposed to addressing what will help students get the teachers they deserve,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten in an interview Thursday. The ruling “created such fear in really good people.”
Weingarten intends to address the issue in a Friday speech, in which she also will acknowledge that the laws in California should be re-evaluated from a standpoint of protecting students and offering a fair, but reasonably fast process for dismissing teachers when necessary.
“Teachers have no tolerance for anyone who engages in sexual misconduct,” she said. “And you can ask any teacher: It doesn’t help anyone if someone can’t teach after they’ve been helped.”
The union leader pointed to other states as models where unions have negotiated changes to dismissal rules. In Maryland, for example, the union supported extending the time needed to earn tenure protections from two to three years.
Critics of the job protections say the unions are not going nearly far enough in support of measures that will quickly improve the teacher work force. Teachers unions in California have resisted virtually all attempts to limit job protections.
Past legislative attempts at revising the rules went too far, according to state union leaders. More recently, however, they supported a law to speed the firing of instructors accused of sexual or other serious misconduct.
At its recent convention in Denver, the other major national teachers union, the National Education Assn., called for the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, accusing him of advancing misguided reforms.
The federation’s leaders are not echoing that call, although the delegates will decide whether or not to take a stronger stand, Weingarten said.
Gov. Jerry Brown is scheduled to address the 3,500 AFT delegates Friday and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti is scheduled to speak Saturday.
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