Idaho Teachers Union Is Latest Target of Attack on Collective Bargaining

     BOISE, Idaho (CN) - A teachers union sued Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, challenging the constitutionality of state Senate Bill 1108, which restricts collective bargaining, phases out tenure for new hires and introduces merit pay. The head of the National Education Association called the bill "political payback" to unions, part of "an attack on the middle class and unions, from Massachusetts to Wisconsin to Idaho."
     The Idaho Teachers Association, three county locals and two teachers are the named plaintiffs in the complaint against Idaho, Otter and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, in Ada County Court.
     The union represents 13,000 Idaho teachers.
     The state Senate passed SB 1108 on March 17; it was amended in April by House Bills 335 and 315. As amended, SB 1108 will kill all collective bargaining agreements in place for Idaho teachers on June 30.
     The teachers say SB 1108 "is unconstitutional in its entirety," as it "addresses multiple subjects or unifying purpose in violation of the single subject rule of Article II, Section 16 of the Idaho Constitution."
     They say the bill also violates Article I Section 16 of the Idaho Constitution, that "'no ... law impairing the obligations of contracts shall ever be passed.'"
     Teachers say that several sections are unconstitutional in themselves, including "a provision repealing the early retirement incentive programs for Idaho public school teachers in derogation of current teachers' 'vested' contract rights, and a provision stating that all existing collective bargaining agreements covering Idaho public school teachers shall be deemed to expire on June 30, 2011, regardless of the state terms of the agreement or the inclusion of a 'continuation' or 'evergreen clause' ..."
     The state claims it repealed the early retirement incentive program to save money, and killed collective bargaining to return power to local school boards.
     The bill is part of a controversial education reform package dubbed "Students Come First," spearheaded by Luna. The reform bills, along with several trailer bills, dominated Idaho's 2011 legislative session.
     The new laws phase out tenure for new teachers, restrict collective bargaining, shift money from salaries to technology upgrades (computers) in the classroom and introduce a merit pay plan.
     The National Education Association said it is supporting Idaho teachers who object to the laws, and want to put the issue to public vote.
     The groups need almost 48,000 signatures of registered voters by June 6 to put the issue on the 2012 ballot.
     "We are seeing an attack on the middle class and unions, from Massachusetts to Wisconsin to Idaho," NEA spokesman Andy Linebaugh told Courthouse News in a telephone interview. "There are very concerted forces trying to dismantle labor in the United States."
     NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said at Idaho's 119th Delegate Assembly in mid-April that Luna's bills, like similar attacks against unionized workers in Wisconsin and other states are "not about education. What it's about is political payback."
     The Idaho teachers seek declaratory judgment, including verification of their vested contract rights, and an injunction. They are represented by Idaho Education Association General Counsel John Rumel.