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Union Complaints Obscure Need for Fair, Level Playing Field

It’s hard not being the only game in town. In two of Colorado’s largest school districts, the unions are used to having a privileged role in helping to run new teacher induction sessions.

This week leaders of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) and Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) complained to the media about this year’s changes, which give them the same treatment as other groups.

Colorado Public Radio first reported the story on Monday. It didn’t sit well with Denver union officials that they no longer sponsor the breakfast for their district’s new teacher orientation session.

Meanwhile, the JCEA spokesperson essentially acknowledged that his group has been accustomed to running the show. Not only has the union hosted a lunch but according to their spokesperson Scott Kwasny, they also “would sign in all the new teachers, collect their email addresses, and pass them on to the district.”

Now JCEA is upset that district leaders have decided to stop outsourcing the basic responsibility of collecting its new employees’ contact information. However, the union was able to find a receptive audience for its complaints with the Colorado Independent, which misportrayed the situation by completely ignoring the fact the union was given a table like other groups but uniquely chose to wander out of the designated space.

This fact was a little more clearly presented yesterday in the Denver Post. But reporter Yesenia Robles’ quote of Kwasny falls into the trap, indicating that “they kicked us out completely.” Not true by any objective account.

In fact, what’s happening is these unions have lost the privilege of giving an exclusive membership pitch to new hires, but apparently aren’t happy with having the same recruitment opportunities as others.

The recent practice of required one-sided sessions isn’t limited to these large districts. As Greg Bratton recorded in his Complete Colorado column on hard-to-defend policies in union contracts:

All teachers newly employed in the neighboring Thompson School District are supposed to attend a “mandatory” orientation session. At the meeting, the Thompson Education Association can explain membership benefits “for no more than 45 minutes.” New teachers can opt out after 10 minutes. Teachers are required to hear the union’s membership pitch, but not about their other options.

I’m not sure exactly what Jeffco and Denver are doing to make spaces available for other membership options for teachers, though I hope they are receptive and provide equal treatment.

But isn’t that what it should be about? A fair and level playing field, so educators can decide which group’s costs and benefits (if any group, at all) works best for them.

There still may be news outlets that will embrace the status quo and treat one group as the only one available to teachers and, in fact, representing all teachers by default.

Where is the journalistic instinct to challenge existing cozy relationships between large government agencies and interest groups, arrangements that restrain teacher choices? In what other area of life would we get sad stories about a group losing its exclusive access to individual customers?

The primary point that should be asked and investigated here is this: Are teachers being given options on a fair and level playing field?

Unlevel Playing Field