Dumb and Dumber

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You can agree or disagree on most bills in the State House. The merits of casino gambling bill? Is it a third-world job creation strategy or an opportunity we are missing? The upcoming pension reform? Reasonable incremental improvements or a half-fix after lawmakers added billions in future pension costs this summer to free up $1 billion in immediate program money?

But every so often you bump up against some really bad ideas—and unfortunately many of them happen to be in education. Whole language instruction, weakening academic standards, and weakening teacher tests are the usual sort of items you have to fight against. But even after the Wisconsin and Massachusetts collective bargaining changes, on Tuesday a hearing will be held on one of the more ludicrous expansions of collective bargaining rights I’ve seen in a long time.

It’s bad for the quality of care, it’s bad for anyone who seeks a more equitable society, and it’s terrible dilution of parental influence over the kind of child care their kids receive.

HB 1671 creates one single state-level bargaining unit for all childcare personnel, including in that bargaining unit directors, child care providers, custodians, drivers, part- and full-time employees. The 20,000 or so employees who would be impacted are likely to be a child-care center near you, for the bill encompasses any nursery school, kindergarten, preschool or program that has even one contract with the state’s early education office (subsidy, voucher, contract, etc.).

Moreover, the bill expands the definition of collective bargaining beyond salary; union fees; evaluations and grievances; professional development; and modes for giving raises to now include retirement and health benefits. Currently, state workers don’t bargain on the last two items; and legislation this summer essential made that in great part true for local employees as well.

Even a ragged edge Che Guevara T-shirtista, while s/he might like the unionization, would have to see that the bill’s call for turning the Department of Early Education and Care into the sole management party with bargaining power on the other side of the table is bad news. Are legislators really considering locking employers out of the collective bargaining process — and undermining management’s ability to keep costs in check, lessening the availability of affordable care; care centers will stop signing contracts with the state, leaving poorer kids with fewer options; subsidized kids would be consolidated (the correct word is segregated) in specific care centers that had contracts with the state; as state workers, these employees would now be subject to “card check” legislation… I could go on.

OK, I will. State taxpayers would foot a union rep fee, and child care employees would pay union dues. All this fiscal and management stuff is really dumb.

However dumb this all is, the dumber part of this is how it would impact parents. The president of the Massachusetts Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs and the executive director of a YMCA in Reading put the stakes very clearly in an op-ed piece in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette:

You have a problem with a teacher at your son’s or daughter’s community child care center. Naturally, you take your grievance to the center’s managers, but are told there’s nothing they can do. Even though you’re paying your own money to a private provider, it turns out the terms of the teacher’s employment are negotiated with the commonwealth, not the employer.

That’s exactly the situation parents would face under legislation currently pending on Beacon Hill.

I hope our paid representatives understand not only how dumb this bill is (that has not always proved a block to passing stuff), but how pernicious it is.

Crossposted at Boston.com’s Rock the Schoolhouse. llow me on twitter at @jimstergios, or visit Pioneer’s website.