Oklahoma bill aimed at dismantling unions takes ‘revenge’ on teachers for striking

"I simply don’t understand why funding education is such a struggle!"

Kent Scott, a teacher from Tecumseh, Oklahoma holds a protest sign at the state capitol on April 2, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Credit: J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
Kent Scott, a teacher from Tecumseh, Oklahoma holds a protest sign at the state capitol on April 2, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Credit: J Pat Carter/Getty Images)

Weeks after tens of thousands of Oklahoma teachers ended their nine-day strike after securing major wins, including teacher raises and additional education funding, legislators introduced a bill that aims to hamper membership in the teachers unions that helped organized the walkouts.

The measure, Senate Bill 1150, began as a bill tackling child abuse, but was completely rewritten this week thanks to an amendment by state Rep. Todd Russ (R). The current version of the bill would require a majority vote by teachers every five years in order to keep their collective bargaining unit. It would also prohibit school districts from automatically subtracting union dues from teacher paychecks, leaving teachers to make their own plans with the union to make the payments.

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“There’s teachers that have been there for 20, 30 years and never had the opportunity to retain their union or change representation, or quit paying the dues and not have representation,” said Russ, according to The Oklahoman.

But Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, told The Oklahoman that the legislation “seems like a revenge bill to come back after teachers, after the walkout.”

Katherine Bishop, vice president of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), agreed, criticizing lawmakers for “singl[ing] the unions out.” Bishop called the bill a “clear attack for teachers taking a stand and schools shutting down their doors and their voices being heard at the Capitol.”

Teachers discussed the measure in the Oklahoma Teacher Walkout private Facebook group, with one individual pointing out Wednesday that “OEA doesn’t even have any bargaining locals in Rep. Russ’s district. This is strictly about targeting teachers and education support professionals!”

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While the legislation is not likely to become law, the attempt to diminish union membership is troubling for Oklahoma teachers, who often feel it is their only source of protection.

“All an attempt to weaken unions by strangling their ability to fight by cutting into their money,” one person said in the Facebook group.

Meanwhile, teachers are simultaneously fighting back against a potential ballot initiative that would put the state revenue bill — the one containing the education funding provisions promised to teachers following their strike — up for a veto referendum. Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite strongly opposes the legislation and is seeking 40,000 signatures on a petition to convince lawmakers to put the issue up for a vote. The deadline for the collecting signatures is July 18.

“I find myself unable to sleep at night because I simply don’t understand why funding education is such a struggle!” Alberto Morejon, one of the strike organizers, wrote on Facebook. “Why do teachers have to fight in order to make a livable wage? Why wouldn’t we want to fund education, giving our kids everything they deserve and every tool possible to give them the best chance to succeed in life?”