Something for Teachers’ Unions to Ponder Over Labor Day Weekend

Teachers’ unions were very excited by two National Labor Relations Board rulings last month. The board concluded in both cases that charter schools were not “political subdivisions” and were thus subject to the National Labor Relations Act. In plain English, it means that unions and unionization efforts in charter schools are regulated by the federal law that oversees private-sector unions, and not the state laws that govern unions in the public sector.

These rulings weren’t necessarily to the unions’ advantage when it comes to organizing charter school employees, but they did fit well with their current public relations stance that charters are “private corporations, not public schools.” However, a short-term PR victory might lead to long-term administrative headaches for the teachers’ unions, NEA in particular.

You see, if charter schools are private entities and subject to the NLRA, then any charter school employees represented by a union would make that union a labor organization “engaged in an industry affecting commerce.” Those unions would then be subject to the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, also known as the Landrum-Griffin Act.

Simply put, any union that represents only public-sector workers is not regulated by LMRDA. If it represents even one private-sector worker, then it must file annually a financial disclosure report called an LM-2 and abide by the law’s other provisions. Currently only about 10 NEA state affiliates are covered by LMRDA, and since the members in those affiliates are also NEA members, NEA national headquarters is also covered by the law, which is how members and the public are able to track NEA expenditures. (AFT also files an LM-2.)

If charter school teachers are private-sector employees, then the California Teachers Association, the New Jersey Education Association and a host of other NEA state affiliates would have to start disclosing their expenditures to the U.S. Department of Labor. In addition, NEA trusteeships – like the ones the national union placed in recent years over its affiliates in Indiana, South Carolina and Alabama – might be subject to more stringent LMRDA regulation and reporting, rather than the unregulated trusteeships the union instituted.

If you think this would be a small price to pay, remember that when the Bush Administration’s Labor Department tried to reinterpret the LMRDA to include 32 NEA state affiliates, the union filed suit, calling the revision “unfair” and “motivated by an ill-will toward unions in general, and NEA and its affiliates in particular.” (See item #3, here.) The ruling was held up in court until the results of the 2008 presidential election made it go away entirely.

So if the unions insist that charter schools are private schools, let’s run with it and demand detailed financial disclosures from the unions representing charter school teachers. It’s the law.