The Idaho House of Representatives passed a bill that would let teachers know they have both union and non-union options for buying professional liability insurance and legal employment protection. Though the bill did not pass the required Senate committees fast enough to receive a vote before the session ended, the bill’s sponsor says he will bring it up again next year.
House Bill 694 amends a law passed in 2011 that attempted to do the same but ended up requiring each of the state’s 129 school districts to list every possible related insurance agency, leading to frustration for districts and confusion for teachers, said bill sponsor Rep. Steven Thayn (R-Emmett). The legislation would have the state Department of Education compile a list each year of the associations offering teachers these services, which must request placement on the list. It would likely include three to five such groups.
“Last year the bill was written rather sloppily,” Thayn said. He said the rewrite takes the paperwork burden from school districts and eliminates insurance companies that don’t offer liability insurance specifically for teachers.
Most teachers don’t know unions are not the only professional association they can join that provides liability insurance and legal counsel in employment disputes, said Cindy Omlin, executive director of Northwest Professional Educators. NWPE is one of several union alternatives that offer similar professional affiliations and services without the political activism and required membership some teachers have indicated they dislike on opinion polls.
“There’s been basically been a monopoly culture set up, with the union threatening school districts with unfair labor practice complaints and legal action if [districts] allow information in from, for example, our organization,” she said. “So teachers are not getting the word that there are options.”
Much Lower Dues
In recent years, nonunion educator associations have begun to grow, while membership in unions like the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers has shrunk slightly. Such groups offer insurance against parents suing a teacher for, say, not stopping bullying or if a teacher was nearby when a child was injured during play. They also typically offer legal advice and representation when a teacher believes she has been unfairly fired, or with similar employment disputes.
“Teachers want to be protected because education has become a very litigious environment. In the past there was basically the teachers union or nothing at all,” Omlin said.
NWPE dues cost $198 per year. Idaho Education Association dues cost approximately $600 per year. Most teachers in the state who belong to a professional teaching organization are IEA members.
Image by Sarina Brady.