Indiana lawmakers advance ‘union-busting’ bill
Indiana lawmakers are one step closer to advancing a contentious bill to the governor’s desk that has been decried by the state’s teachers unions as “unnecessary” and “union-busting.”
The House voted 63-36 Monday — with seven GOP legislators opposed — to send the proposal back to the opposite chamber for final approval. The bill barely passed the Senate earlier this session after facing bipartisan opposition.
Educators and union leaders maintain that Senate Bill 486 would “silence teachers” by stripping their rights to discuss concerns over student learning with school administrators.
Specifically, the bill would no longer require school administrators to discuss topics like class sizes, curriculum and student discipline with teachers and their union.
Republican lawmakers in favor of the bill have said it’s a “deregulation bill” that will empower administrators and educators. They argued the changes would ensure discussions about working conditions are more open to non-union teachers and are not limited to the 16 topics in state law.
“This bill is all about flexibility for educators in the classroom — at the building level and at the system level,” said Rep. Jake Teshka, R-South Bend, who sponsored the bill. “The goal is to eliminate mandates that are either outdated or unnecessary so that our state’s teachers can focus on educating Hoosier children.”
“As we move more and more into a school choice environment where parents can rightly choose the education environment that works best for their child, there’s less need for us to be so prescriptive in our regulation of traditional public schools,” he continued. “This bill treats educators as the professionals that they are by trusting them to communicate with each other as partners, not adversaries.”
But the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) has pushed back, saying the bill would further erode teachers’ collective bargaining rights.
The state’s largest teachers union rallied at the Statehouse last week. Among their demands was a call for lawmakers to kill Senate Bill 486 and “stop attacks” on the teaching profession.
Dozens of teachers returned outside the House chamber Monday, chanting and yelling in opposition as lawmakers debated and voted on the bill.
“We have had a union busting effort going on … this body is not dealing with the desires of the community. … We are not walking with the people of these communities,” said Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, speaking Monday on the House floor. “(This bill) is destructive.”
Teachers rally against the bill
The legislation, authored by Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, would let school administrators choose not to discuss decisions about classroom sizes, curriculum and other similar topics with their teachers’ union representatives. The bill also would strip down teacher training and evaluation requirements currently in state law, like those related to student homelessness.
The bill does not change requirements for districts to negotiate wages with teachers’ representatives, however.
Tensions rose in the House Education Committee last week as lawmakers debated the bill and an amendment proposed by Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, that would have deleted most of the language in the draft legislation. That amendment ultimately failed.
Democratic lawmakers held that the existing 50-year-old mandate requiring school administrators to discuss working conditions with teachers’ labor representatives is essential for ensuring collective bargaining between school districts and educators is mandatory — not optional.
During nearly three hours of testimony before the House committee — mostly from teachers speaking in opposition — educators said the bill will negatively impact students and worsen Indiana’s already historic teacher shortage.
“Bills like these are directly causing an effect on our teacher shortage,” said Joel Hand, speaking on behalf of the Indiana Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, a separate union with a significant Hoosier membership. “And when teachers feel like and have the impression that they’re not being listened to by their administration, by their legislators, they give up, they leave the profession, or worse yet, we have young people … who decide they’re not going to go into the teaching profession.”
Administrators stand in support
Those who spoke out against the measure additionally argued that school administrators are unlikely to consistently maintain open lines of communication without the mandate.
“We’re tired of screaming what we need and we’re tired of not being heard. Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions. You will codify our silence with this bill,” said Allison Haley, a high school teacher and local union president in Noblesville. “Teacher voice is imperative. Can we just call this what it is? An attack on a majority women profession that requires the demanding and exhaustive combination of intellect, professionalism and empathy.”
Still, not all teachers oppose the measure.
That includes members of Indiana Professional Educators, an association of teachers that oppose unions.
They argued that the bill would open teacher-administrator discussions up to non-union employees. Opponents noted that nothing in the current law prohibits administrators from having such discussions with those teachers, though.
Supporters further argued the bill would better allow teachers and administrators to do their jobs in ways that best fit their local communities — rather than have to respond to top-down mandates from the state.
“I don’t believe communication at the administrative level for a superintendent of public schools is an option. I believe it will have to and will continue,” said Robert Taylor, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents. “Can I guarantee that? No, I cannot. But [I can] assure you that we as an association will continue to advocate, train and facilitate all superintendents that we have in our association to become effective communicators.”
Multiple other groups representing school administrators supported the bill, too.
“Building professional relationships with staff is the key way our educators grow and thereby help our students grow,” said Todd Bess, executive director for the Indiana Association of Principals. “We commit to emphasizing this point with our school leaders so all educator voices are heard.”
The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.