The Internet has not been sowing harmony between Ocean State Tea Party in Action (OSTPA) and the General Assembly House Committee on Labor. Last week, Chairwoman Anastasia Williams (D, Providence) aired a grievance against the commentary that somebody had added while forwarding an OSTPA “legislative alert.” This week, it was Rep. Scott Guthrie (D, Coventry) with the complaint:
Williams: In my committee, I have stated that each and every one of us are entitled to their opinion. I wholeheartedly respect that. As important as that is, I also expect the respect to be given to each and every member of this committee. We can have differences of opinion, and it’s okay to have those, but it’s totally out of field for anyone to misrepresent something that is said, especially when you use it in a public forum like a newspaper or a radio [show].
I say that because a conversation was presented by a witness in a hearing that we had last week, but the report that was presented publicly outside of these doors was not at all what was presented, here. Now, we can always dress up our presentation in the manner for which we would like, but I ask that it always be the truth. Always be the truth.
And with that, Representative Guthrie, if you care to say anything in regards to the emails that both you and myself received, please do so.
Guthrie: Basically, when we say something in this room, we should convey the message of what we say, not what you heard. There was a little legislative alert that went out on the Tea Party Web page, and apparently what was said in this committee was misrepresented on the Web site.
I had no opinion on anything; I wasn’t trying to persuade anyone to do anything. I was actually asking someone that was testifying what he thought of the other side. Apparently, the authors of the email think that I was trying to convince him that he was wrong and I was right, which was not the case.
The other thing that I’m a little bit disappointed with is: It’s okay to criticize someone after they vote in this building; there’s no problem with that. But you should never, ever say or publish that someone is going to vote a certain way. That’s not fair. That’s not fair to any legislator. We’re all victims of making decisions, whether they’re right or wrong, and nevertheless, they’re public, but please don’t assume that someone is going to vote a certain way until after that person has voted.
Rep. Guthrie has confirmed, for the Current, that this was the offending text, from OSTPA’s weekly alert:
This past week, the Labor Committee members went beyond asking questions for clarification. Keith Anderson, East Providence teacher, testified in support of the Teachers’ Right to Work bill. (The OSTPA dubs this the “Freedom of Choice” bill). He explained his position and why he personally believed in an individual’s reliance on his ability to excel in his profession as opposed to being part of a collective bargaining unit that provides job protection. Labor Committee member Rep. Guthrie, retired firefighter, tried to persuade Mr. Anderson that the union is a better way because it provides job security. Rep. Guthrie went so far as to say that he wouldn’t want his daughter to take a teaching job if there were no job security. Unfortunately, the lone conservative voice of the labor committee, Rep. Newberry, was not in attendance to inject support for this bill or to provide questions or comments for a different perspective.
Would you consider this type of exchange emblematic of obtaining public input? Does it appear that Labor Committee member Rep. Guthrie is open to the idea of new legislation allowing for Teachers’ Right to Work?
While the legislation would simply allow a teacher to choose whether to be in a union or not by no longer requiring automatic withholding of shop fees as a condition of public employment it appeared as if the Labor Committee, consisting primarily of public sector labor unions, had already made up their minds about the Teachers’ Right to Work bill, well before obtaining public input and comment.
Reviewing the Current’s video record of the hearing, it turns out that the alert did inaccurately convey the exchange as between Guthrie and Anderson. However, the account does accurately describe Guthrie’s statements to the previous witness, Anna Cano-Morales, of the Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now (RI-CAN), on the separate matter of extending the deadline for layoff notices:
Guthrie: I just want to come back to something I said earlier. You mentioned that there’s a high student turnover in Central Falls.
Cano-Morales: Not so much turnover, but influx, so we may get thirty kids…
Guthrie: You have people going in and going out, but it’s not so for the teachers, right? They stay there?
Guthrie: The only reason I say that is I go back to what I asked the gentleman from the Department of Education. If someone gets laid off, and they’re a step 9 or step 10, do you think it’s right for a community to hire someone back that’s a step 2? Especially when we’re going through the economic problems that we’re having, like Representative Savage said.
So, what we don’t want to see is someone taking advantage of a more senior person, or a more experienced person [air quotes] and then replace them with someone that — I wouldn’t say is necessarily just coming through the door — but we should not allow the ability to just get rid of the higher-paid person and pay the lower-paid person. I can’t make it any blunter than that.
Cano-Morales: It’s perfectly clear, and I have to tell you that there isn’t a principal that I’ve spoken to or a superintendent that I’ve spoken to, or even a school committee person, that doesn’t agree with that. I think that a healthy balance of having veteran teachers, master teachers, that are able to work with inexperienced or novice teachers is a wonderful thing. We need that.
Guthrie: Do you think that possibility exists that there will be abuses?
Cano-Morales: There’s no guarantee of anything. Right now, we are operating under the auspices that school districts, LEAs, are local professional learning communities and that everybody is on the path to a really super professionalism. That’s why Jamestown is a full implementation site. Central Falls is a pilot site for AFT’s innovation grant for a teacher evaluation system. So, Rhode Island is on the track to actually provide, I believe, the professional development and evaluation tools that as professionals they deserve.
Guthrie: I think Jamestown got a double-whammy, because they got hammered on the school funding formula, so it’s very difficult for them. She said that they had to send out 16 pink slips, probably most of them aren’t going to come back. You know, it just doesn’t seem right.
I would never want to be in a position where I went to work, and I was never sure that I was going to have a job the next day. And the reason I put my bill in, the seniority thing, was if my daughter wanted to become a teacher, and there wasn’t something in legislation or in the contract to make sure that she has a job in the future, I would tell her: “Why bother becoming a teacher?” “Yeah, but Dad,that’s what I want to do.” You know what I’m saying?
I want to make sure that there is going to be a future there.
However, to Anderson, on the teachers’ right to work bill, Guthrie said this:
Guthrie: You said earlier that you thought maybe the best practice is a recommendation from the principal — “Great teacher; you should come back and work for us” and so forth. What do you think about looking at that from the other direction. Could the same principal write something bad about someone and recommend that they be fired. Do you think that that’s fair? Is that equality?
Anderson described a very objective evaluation system.
Guthrie: That potential is there, do you agree?
Anderson: It’s there in any job… I think your question’s a moot point.
Guthrie: I think it could happen anywhere. We just happen to be talking about education right now, and what we’re charged with doing is making sure that we have fair employment practices. That’s all I just wanted to add.
Whether these discussions constitute an attempt of Rep. Guthrie to persuade is a subject for individual consideration. However, many similar exchanges occurred throughout the hearing, and it would be reasonable for a viewer to infer particular leanings among the legislators. Whether it is fair of advocacy groups to tell their members which legislators appear likely to vote against their cause (necessitating calls and other forms of pressure) is a matter for group members and, ultimately, voters to decide.