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Point of View: Walking off the Job at Taxpayers' Expense

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Some teachers in Oklahoma got paid by taxpayers to walk off their jobs in April, newly released information reveals.

Thousands of teachers walked out of Oklahoma classrooms and flooded the Capitol house to demand higher salaries and increased education funding. As a result of the two-week walkout, around 200 school districts were forced to close, according to The Oklahoman.

Prior to the teacher strike, lawmakers passed legislation that provided teachers with an average $6,100 raise, the largest in Oklahoma history. In addition to pay raises, the teachers' unions released a list of demands to end the strike. At the top of the list was increased education funding. On April 6, the Legislature passed measures to increase education funding by $40 million. Ultimately, union leaders ended the strike when further legislative action looked unlikely, instead redirecting union focus to the upcoming election.

Media reports on the strike noted sacrifices some teachers made for the walkout. In the school districts that remained open, teachers used their “sick days or personal days to participate in the walkout, and others are paying substitute teachers from their own pockets.”

Now it turns out taxpayers made the sacrifice in many instances. There is a little-known provision in most collective bargaining agreements called union leave or release time, which allows public employees to conduct union business instead of teaching but still paid by taxpayers. But neither the amount of union leave used nor its costs are usually made known to the public. One thing is for sure: None of the activity serves a public purpose. Instead, it exclusively benefits government unions.

Oklahoma collective bargaining agreements between government employers and public-employee unions also include union leave arrangements. The Competitive Enterprise Institute sent a public records request to Oklahoma City Public Schools asking for union leave records. Below is the response in its entirety:

"On the advice of the General Counsel, under the Open Records Act you are only entitled to receive a summary report of the total amount of leave taken by each union's members. Names or salaries will not be provided since those are considered personnel records. Below you will find the total number of hours of union leave reported for the last school year.

"American Federation of Teachers (certified) — 20,116 hours (attributed heavily to the teacher walkout in the spring)

"American Federation of Teachers (classified) — 50 hours

"American Federation of School Administrators — 40 hours"

Due to the limited response, it is impossible to calculate the cost of union leave taken by Oklahoma City teachers to go on strike, but it likely was not cheap.

With the new legislative session nearing, lawmakers should consider eliminating union leave altogether. While the cost of the union subsidy is unknown in Oklahoma, an inspection of Oklahoma collective bargaining agreements show it is a fairly common practice.

Ultimately, public-sector unions should put their money where their mouth is. If teachers' unions are concerned with a lack of education funding, then they should not bargain for provisions that take teachers out of the classroom to perform union business and waste taxpayer funds.

Originally published at NewsOk.