Proposed teacher insurance plan a ‘union-buster’ and out of touch

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Proposed teacher insurance plan a ‘union-buster’ and out of touch
By Samuel Speciale, The Charleston Daily Mail

A request that the West Virginia Board of Education consider backing a state-funded teacher liability insurance plan, while termed a measure of good will by one school board member, has labor union officials once again saying lawmakers are out of touch with educators.

Proposed last week by school board member Wade Linger, the plan would extend to the state’s 20,000 teachers taxpayer-funded legal protection from employment-related lawsuits.

“We live in a litigious society, and legal defense can be an expensive thing to worry about,” Linger said. “It just seems appropriate to me — and it only seems fair — that teachers would have some form of protection.”

Linger went on to say liability insurance is a “reasonable benefit” the state should offer its teachers.

While it’s not one provided through the state, teachers do have access to liability insurance and other legal services when they join a union.

Both the West Virginia American Federation of Teachers and the West Virginia Education Association, the state’s largest teachers unions, offer liability insurance packages to members.

But Linger says teachers shouldn’t have to rely on a third party for those benefits.

“I’m glad someone is providing it,” Linger said. “But I don’t think they (teachers) should have to go to a union to get it.”

Union leaders are taking issue with that.

Dale Lee, president of the West Virgina Education Association, said the state providing a liability insurance plan would be frivolous at best. Beyond that, he said it also would undermine the benefits offered by teachers unions.

“I would see that as a form of union-busting,” he said.

Linger declined to say his proposal is a “union-buster.”

“This is just something the state should be providing,” he said.

Lee said he is disappointed that lawmakers continuously propose changes without first “hearing our voice.”

“They’re missing a huge part of what’s going on,” he said.

Christine Campbell, president of West Virginia American Federation of Teachers, echoed Lee’s comments by saying teachers, for years, have asked the Legislature to expand their preparatory time, professional development and classroom resources, in addition to pay raises that would make the profession competitive with neighboring states.

“And we’re always met with ‘We’d love to do that, but it costs too much money,’” Campbell said.

“Well, where’s the money for this?”

To Campbell’s knowledge, there is no teacher outcry for expanded liability protection.

“We’d rather see our health insurance and pensions fully funded,” she said. “And they want to propose something we haven’t asked for?”

Campbell also questions the cost the state would incur if it offered such a plan.

“There’s a lot of questions,” she said, later adding that money would be better spent by providing additional resources to the classroom.

“I know teachers would prefer that,” she said.

Campbell and Lee also have concerns over what would be covered under a state-funded plan.

While details are sparse on what the plan may look like, Linger admits the state wouldn’t be able to provide legal help in every situation, especially if there is a case also involving the Department of Education.

“That’d be a serious conflict of interest,” Campbell said.

It remains to be seen if such a plan will be considered by the school board or if it has the backing of lawmakers, who would have to draft legislation and provide a fiscal note.

Despite that, Linger said it’s something the state should at least consider.