Education Unions Cave on Seniority-Based Layoffs

Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts chapter of the American Federation of Teachers have dropped their opposition to the passage of compromise legislation aimed at revamping the state’s teacher evaluation system. The legislation will also change the criteria for determining layoffs in the future by placing performance ahead of seniority.

The announcements herald improved prospects for the bill. If the bill passes that is likely to head off a November statewide ballot question on the issue.

The Massachusetts AFL-CIO, the state’s largest labor union, and AFT Massachusetts had previously vowed to oppose the compromise. But the unions indicated in separate statements issued on Wednesday that they considered the proposed bill to be preferable to the language in the original ballot initiative.

The ballot initiative was sponsored by the child advocacy group Stand for Children, who agreed the compromise a few weeks ago with the Massachusetts Teachers Association (which is the state’s largest teaching union). From the language the AFL-CIO are using it appears that their agreement to the compromise is grudging and in reaction to fear that they would lose at a November ballot.

“The Massachusetts AFL-CIO will no longer oppose legislation proposed by Stand for Children and the Massachusetts Teachers Association should it come up for a vote,” the union said in a statement posted on its website. “However, we remain opposed to the tactics utilized by Stand for Children that was the genesis for the bill.”

AFT Massachusetts have also clarified that they are not supporting the bill, merely withdrawing their opposition to it and they still possessed ‘deep reservations’ regarding it.

Stand for Children has hailed the compromise as a guarantee for children that their school will give priority to a teacher’s effectiveness rather than seniority when deciding which teachers to keep.

The bill will also provide $13 million to school districts to properly train administrators and teachers in the new system and creates a data reporting system to aid the goal of accountability.

The Massachusetts Association of Teachers said in announcing the compromise June 7 that the agreement would avoid what was anticipated to be a “divisive and costly” fight over the ballot question. The union also said the compromise bill would retain greater collective bargaining rights for teachers in layoffs than under the ballot initiative.

While the unions seems convinced that the ballot would go against them, the bill’s passage is not assured; Legislature only has a short amount of time left to act on the bill. If it fails to pass, Stand for Children could, and likely would, still opt to place the original question on the November ballot.