From the Albany Times-Union:
New York teachers are suing the state over new regulations that allow superintendents to impose improvement plans on underperforming teachers without first negotiating with their union.
New York State United Teachers and six local unions, including Troy and Schenectady teachers’ groups, are plaintiffs in the suit. The Board of Regents, which sets education policy for the state, and the state Education Department, which writes the rules and regulations pertaining to education, are listed as defendants, along with their respective leaders, Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.
Unions say the new regulations violate their collective bargaining rights under the state’s Taylor Law, which governs public employee contracts and negotiations. Over the years, changes in teacher evaluation and disciplinary procedures required negotiation.
Labor unions serve important purposes. But what profession requires supervisors to negotiate with a union representative before implementing improvement plans for under-performing employees?
In this case, filed Tuesday in State Supreme Court, New York State United Teachers claims that new regulations allowing superintendents to create improvement plans for teachers rated “ineffective” violates the Taylor Law. Here’s a summary of the law from an abstract of a paper written Albany Law School Professor Vincent Martin Bonventre:
The duty of fair representation in labor negotiations was born in Supreme Court case law
to protect against racial discrimination and as a bastion of individuals’ interests during exclusive union representation in the collective bargaining process. The law later became as much a prescription for deference to unions as a protector from arbitrary union rule. As it currently stands, the law has become a minimal safeguard against wholly irrational and invidious union conduct far from the original guarantee of competent and committed union representation. Almost 25 years after the Supreme Court recognized a duty of fair representation in federal labor law, the New York legislature enacted the Taylor Law – officially the Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act. Since the adoption of the Taylor Act, the New York legislature and courts have incorporated the federal doctrine into the statute for use by New York’s public sector employees.
Of course, this suit has nothing to do with racial discrimination and represents the Taylor Law’s devolution into “deference for unions” at all costs. Imagine the scenario if the plaintiffs prevail: every time a superintendent deems that a teacher or principal is ineffective and in need of professional development, he or she would be required to convene time-sucking and expensive negotiations with union representatives. Talk about a disincentive.
My parents were both proud UFT members and I know they’d look askance at efforts to derail professional improvement. This is the sort of embarrassing case that undermines union leaders and the shared cause of placing effective teachers in front of every classroom.