KANE: The Louisiana Teacher Union Paradox

Editor’s Note: This is the Executive Summary of a larger report, which can be viewed in full at the Pelican Post.

Recent legislative sessions have not been kind to Louisiana’s two teacher unions, the Louisiana Association of Educators (“LAE”) and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and School Employees (“LFT”).  (The LAE is the state affiliate of the National Education Association and the LFT is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO.)  In spite of tremendous organized opposition from these two unions, historic education reforms have been passed in Louisiana.

Successive electoral, legislative and local district collective bargaining contract losses, along with a more engaged citizenry that is beginning to demand more from schools, have fostered the teacher unions’ defeats.  Old-fashioned “butt kickings” at the Capitol, unsuccessful recall attempts by the unions for the governor and pro-reform legislators, and anemic membership representation in school districts could lead many to conclude that teacher unions are weak in Louisiana.

Indeed, in a just released report issued by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute entitled How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions?, Louisiana ranked 42nd in the nation for teacher union strength, and was rated as a Tier 5 state, which are the states with the weakest teacher unions.

Louisiana’s unions have been unable to pass a mandatory state collective bargaining law in spite of numerous attempts over the past decades. Additionally, only eight school boards in Louisiana have ever voted in favor of collective bargaining agreements. (The LFT has had agreements in Jefferson, Orleans, and St. Tammany Parishes. The LAE has agreements in St. Bernard, St. Helena, St. John the Baptist and Vermilion Parishes, as well as the independent school district of the City of Bogalusa.)

Following the state takeover of the majority of schools in Orleans Parish in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Orleans Parish School Board voted not to renew its collective bargaining agreement with the LFT. Jefferson Parish is currently in negotiations to revise its agreement with the LFT, which expired earlier this year. Currently, only six of the 70 school districts in the state have collective bargaining agreements with one of the two unions.

Clearly, Louisiana’s teacher unions do not appear to compete with the strength of education unions in other states. This could lead observers to believe that teacher unions play a negligible role in education policy in Louisiana.

They would be wrong.

Teacher union challenges to real education reform continue to exist, though often in ways that are not measurable or reportable. If you dig deeper, the unions’ power and influence, particularly at the local school district level, remain strong in this state, challenging education reform efforts at every step of the electoral, legislative and policy implementation processes.

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