Mike Antonucci explains how teacher union officials take cost into consideration when deciding which cases to pursue when it comes to firing teachers in the 74million.org.
The most common criticism of teachers unions is that they protect bad employees. It can often take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to fire a tenured public school teacher. Sometimes districts don’t even bother trying — even if the teacher is in jail.
But protecting teachers isn’t as straightforward as many believe. The district, the union, and often the union’s insurers all have economic interests that help determine how a teacher termination case will proceed. The teacher may have less influence over the outcome than any of these other players.
Teachers start in a probationary period of two years or more; during that time they typically can be dismissed for any reason or none at all. After completing probation, the teacher receives tenure — or, as the unions prefer to say, due process protection.
Semantics aside, dismissing or reprimanding a tenured teacher must follow prescribed procedures set out in collective bargaining agreements, school district policies, and state law.
One of the union’s primary purposes is to provide job protections for teachers. They are highly motivated to perform this function because it demonstrates the union’s value to other members. And because grievances generally do not require the services of an attorney and can be handled by a staffer (because they are procedural rather than legal), the task of filing a grievance is usually performed without undue delay.
What isn’t commonly understood by the public, or even by teachers, is that the union has wide discretion to pursue, or not pursue, the defense of its members. If the union and/or its attorney determines that they are unlikely to prevail, or the costs may be excessive, they may counsel the teacher to resign, transfer, or accept a lesser punishment.
If the union is paying for the individual teacher’s representation, it makes the final decision.
Unions constantly battle the public perception that teachers are guaranteed jobs for life. But they also benefit from the fact that their members have much the same perception. For many of them, job protection is what keeps them paying union dues year after year. It is only the small number of teachers who have to draw on that protection who discover its limitations.