People in Utah often wonder why there is such a contentious relationship between the UEA and the state legislature. Like all employee unions, the basic power structure of the UEA is essentially coercive. That is, the ultimate power it has is to strike, although, it also has power to employ other forms of political coercion.
That is not to say that the union is devoid of noble goals and has no history of collaborative efforts. But the basic reality remains that its power base is coercive. The state legislature is to the UEA what the executive boards of Ford and GM are to the UAW. The legislature holds the keys to the actual money that the UEA seeks to control. The basic nature of these power structures is opposition, so you end up with contention.
This SL-Trib article discusses a presently tiny organization that aims to offer education employees an alternative to the UEA. The Utah Council of Educators is a non-union organization. The cost of dues provides members with the same kind of liability insurance and legal coverage that is offered by the UEA, but at about a third the cost of UEA dues. The UTCE does not do collective bargaining or engage in any kind of political coercion. It does lobby the legislature, but its president says that the organization seeks to make friends rather than enemies on Capitol Hill. The non-partisan UTCE steers clear of “controversial and divisive social issues” and does not endorse political candidates.
The UTCE has already earned the UEA’s ire by working last year with legislators on a bill to eliminate the UEA’s de facto monopoly on representing education issues. The UTCE argued that all educator employee groups should be treated equally, and that no one group should receive preferential treatment under the law. It was hard for the UEA to deny that it enjoyed preferential treatment or to mount any decent argument in favor of retaining such.
The UTCE also “offers classroom mini-grants, teacher scholarships, and professional development support.” With its much lower dues (a difference of over $350 per year) and its non-controversial collaborative approach, the UTCE hopes to triple its membership over the next year to become about the same size at the AFT. Even then, it will be very tiny in comparison to the UEA.
Thanks to the UTCE, the UEA may have lost some of its special privileges, but it will still remain the largest single power group outside of elected government on Capitol Hill. Heck, with the UEA members serving in the legislature, it may also be the largest single elected power group on Capitol Hill. But it is refreshing to see a non-contentious (and less expensive) alternative offered.
A spokesman for the national Association of American Educators, which partners with many non-union education associations (including the UTCE) admits that these organizations do not have the political clout enjoyed by NEA affiliates. But she contends that they are “a credible voice. When legislators want to hear what educators think without any spin or agenda, they come to us.”
The 2007 legislative session proved that some powerful legislators are willing to collaborate with a non-partisan educator group that doesn’t inherently have it in for a significant number of legislators. I will be watching the next few legislative sessions to see if the tiny UTCE actually gets more of what is really important to education employees with collaboration than the massive and well-funded UEA gets with its hostile approach.