Idaho Approves Law to Limit Teachers Union Power

A bill to strip Idaho's public school teachers of much of their collective bargaining rights won final passage in the state Legislature on Tuesday and was awaiting the governor's signature to become law.

The measure, which cleared the Republican-controlled House on a vote of 48-22, would restrict collective bargaining for the state's 12,000 unionized teachers to salaries and benefits only, removing from labor negotiations such issues as class size and teacher workloads.

The legislation, which supporters have said is necessary to help rein in education spending, also would eliminate teacher tenure, limit the duration of teachers' labor contracts to one year and remove seniority as a factor in determining the order of any teacher layoffs.

Moreover, it would bar collective bargaining by a teachers' union altogether unless the union local could prove that it represented more than 50 percent of the teachers in that school district.

Crafted by Idaho's elected schools chief and backed by Republicans such as Governor Butch Otter and legislative leaders, the bill has sparked demonstrations by thousands across a state where public protests are relatively uncommon.

The outcry comes as efforts are under way by Republican leaders in Wisconsin and other states to curb unions representing teachers and other public employees.

The measure won approval last month in the Senate, also dominated by Republicans.

State Rep. Bob Nonini, chairman of the Idaho House's education panel, on Tuesday said the measure had less to do with labor relations than giving local school boards greater authority to reward good teachers and fire poor ones.

"We cannot leave good teaching to chance," he said.

Democratic lawmakers who opposed the measure sought to slow its passage by requiring the 25-page bill to be read aloud.

Boise Democrat Brian Cronin said the legislation was aimed at silencing teachers.

"Let's stop pretending this has anything to do with the classroom or our children," he said.

The measure is part of a broader push by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna to overhaul the public education system for kindergarten through high school.

The overhaul would lay off more than 750 teachers, expand class sizes and require students to complete online courses to graduate.

Luna said the plan places students first and saves millions of dollars when the state is facing a shortfall in tax revenues to fuel its budget.

The Idaho Education Association, the union representing the state's elementary and secondary school teachers, was behind a protest February 22, the first of several opposition rallies across the state.

Students in Idaho intend to stage another walkout on Wednesday, with protests planned from the small ranching community of Salmon to upscale resort towns such as Sun Valley.