From Boston to Los Angeles, teachers’ unions and their progressive counterparts have quietly devised an unprecedented method to bypass the legislative process by embedding unrelated policy issues deep within the intricate terms of teacher contracts.

This new, covert strategy, hidden in plain sight, allows state and municipal officials to create sweeping policy changes that evade the scrutiny typically associated with customary legislative procedures, which include publicly available draft legislation, committee hearings, amendments and comprehensive floor debates.

In Boston, teachers’ union president Jessica Tang announced they secured “an unprecedented $50 million to commence bolstering the affordable housing that Boston students and families require.” Similarly, Los Angeles teachers incorporated “housing justice provisions” into their contracts.

Whatever the merits of affordable housing, it’s quite a stretch to argue that the issue is relevant to the matters properly encompassed within a teachers’ contract.

Yet the Boston contract is being utilized as a template by the AFL-CIO to advance housing and environmental “justice.” During the recent Connecticut AFL-CIO biennial convention, during a panel on Labor-Community Partnerships, the President of the New Haven Federation of Teachers stated on film, “Engage in negotiations and address the issues our community cares about, as it’s a win-win situation, and this is how we sustain those relationships and continue to advance our collective agenda.”

Collective bargaining agreements, which can range from dozens to hundreds of pages in length, encompass virtually all aspects of compensation such as wages, working hours, and conditions, in addition to medical and retirement benefits. These agreements are often intentionally drafted in vague terms laden with industry jargon, and require knowledge of local bargaining history for proper interpretation.

Although these agreements are negotiated in the name of taxpayers, in practice, the taxpayers are frequently overlooked in the process. Contracts do receive a vote from a legislative body, but it is typically a binary, up-or-down choice for the elected officials. There’s no open, deliberative process to review individual contract provisions or offer amendments.

Public sector unions have long used their significant political influence to draw attention to social issues that far extend beyond the scope of their work in the public sector, but this strategy takes that advocacy to an entirely new level. A growing trend sees them transitioning from vocal proponents of socialist reforms to using labor agreements negotiated in dimly light backrooms to impose their agenda on an often unwilling public.

This pernicious tactic will be used by unions and unscrupulous state and municipal negotiators to enact a laundry list of far-left social programs that could never win support through the democratic process. It conveniently provides cover for government officials eager to evade political accountability.

By creating an omnibus policy package within a collective bargaining agreement, the political class is able to silence any dissenting views and distract from the merits of reasonable objections. It’s far easier to claim that anyone who votes against the collective bargaining agreement is anti-teacher or anti-worker than to defend expensive (and potentially unpopular) new social programs.

Unions are telling us what they plan to do. We can no longer afford to ignore this reality.

Municipal negotiations, teacher unions and their progressive allies are leveraging the fine print of labor agreements to advance a collective agenda rooted in Marxist ideology, pushing for social programs they could never pass through the typical legislative process. Even if their intentions seem noble, bundling unrelated policy issues into teacher contracts raises concerns about transparency and accountability, and blurs the lines between union advocacy and the public’s interests.

In an era where we have witnessed a decline in student outcomes — the achievement gap has been widening, with students reading, math, science and civics scores falling — teachers’ contracts need to be focused on education.  Yet more and more attention is focused on non-education related distractions.

The union agenda of enacting radical policy change through collective bargaining must be exposed, with negotiators trained to block these proposals. What’s more, reforms are desperately needed to limit the scope of collective bargaining and bring the negotiations into the light, so that the public paying for the contracts can view the entire process. That’s our best hope for bringing the interest of the taxpayers and the well-being of the workforce into a sensible balance.

Frank Ricci on January 27, 2024

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