Teachers unions are taking knocks south of the border, as the latest comprehensive education reform bill signed by Mexican President Enrique Pena will weaken the union’s power substantially in the country’s education system, the Associated Press reports. The law – which will usher in changes on a scale that the country has not seen in more than 30 years – seeks to break the system by which teaching and administrator positions are not granted on merit but are instead sold or inherited.
The legislation had a tough time making its way into law, but was eventually approved by the country’s Legislature and gained support from the majority of lawmaking bodies in the country’s individual states. It is considered a great victory for Nieto, whose Institutional Revolutionary Party swept into power on the promises of sweeping reform.
Among changes the new law will bring will be a complete census of the country’s education system and the creation of a system by which promotions and jobs in schools will be distributed based on merit and not based on bribes and nepotism.
Because the 1.5 million-member National Union of Education Workers union controls the education system, no one knows exactly how many schools, teachers or students exist. The payroll is believed to have thousands of phantom teachers and once included the leader of a major drug cartel in the western state of Michoacan, who had last been in the classroom a decade earlier. The state later canceled his teacher checks.
The power over the education system in the country now shifts from the local union-controlled boards to the federal government. It was viewed as the only way to break the stranglehold the Mexico’s teachers unions hold over the nation’s schools. Previously, the union had full control over all personnel decisions involving education, including the hiring and firing of faculty and administrators. These decisions were chiefly handled by the union’s president Elba Esther Gordillo and her deputies.
Gordillo has maintained hold of the top union position for nearly a quarter of a century and has recently been reelected – in a unanimous union vote – for a term of another 6 years.
For years, she has beaten back attacks from union dissidents, political foes and journalists who have seen her as a symbol of Mexico’s corrupt, old-style politics. Rivals have accused her of corruption, misuse of union funds and even a murder, but prosecutors who investigated never brought a charge against her.
She was expelled from Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party in 2006 for supporting other parties’ candidates and the formation of her own New Alliance party.