Bill would penalize Utah schools for unequal access to teacher associations

SB82 • Panel OKs bill to penalize violators of 2007 law.
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Schools could face fines for failing to give all teacher groups the kind of access they give the Utah Education Association (UEA), under a bill that gained committee approval Friday.

"There is a very cozy and convenient relationship that exists between the education establishment and the predominant teachers union, the NEA affiliate, the UEA, to the point that they have access to the teachers in ways competing organizations simply don't," said SB82 bill sponsor Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi.

Madsen sponsored a bill that became law in 2007, mandating that all teacher groups must get equal access to schools and teachers. But Madsen said some districts still are not doing that, which is why penalties are needed.

SB82 would require all public school employee associations to register with the state school board and require that all the groups be offered equal access to school activities, including payroll deductions, sponsorship of events and membership on school committees. Principals who violate that law could face fines of up to $1,000, and school districts and charter schools could face penalties of up to $10,000. Association members would also be able to withdraw their memberships and get full dues refunds if the law was broken while their memberships were solicited.

Charity Smith, membership director of the Association of American Educators Utah — a non-union employee association — said her organization has been excluded from events in a number of districts.

Representatives of many of those districts, however, said during the hearing that's not true.

Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, Utah Education Association president, said she questions the true motive behind the proposal, which is supported by Parents for Choice in Education.

"This bill is discriminatory. It singles out one group — education associations — and treats that group differently than all other groups," she said. "This bill is designed to make it more difficult for teachers to have a voice by creating a bureaucratic paper chase."

The Senate Education Committee passed the bill 5-1, advancing it to the Senate floor.