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Let’s hear from Rep. Tiffany

Does newly elected congressman Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua) not like teachers? Boy, it sure looks that way.

A decade ago, Tiffany, a first term Northwoods assemblyman, voted for Act 10, the law that ended collective bargaining for most public employees in Wisconsin. The legislation crippled the state teacher’s union.

Now, Wisconsin, along with the rest of the nation, finds itself in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus is spreading rapidly.

Teachers are worried about safely returning to work in the fall. Under Act 10, however, teachers are powerless to negotiate job safety or hazard pay.

You’d think that Tiffany might sympathize with teachers and the dilemma they face. No, not really. Instead, the congressman continues his quest to take away teacher rights.

He is a co-sponsor of HR 7152, which, not only threatens to cut federal funding to schools that don’t offer instruction that is “substantially similar to that provided in previous academic years,” but would prohibit school staff from suing educational institutions should they contract COVID- 19.

Such a law would turn teachers into second-class workers. It would take away a teacher’s right to bargain for safe working conditions, push to reopen schools without social distancing and, then, when teachers get sick, take away their right to sue for damages, even if they are the victims of gross negligence or intentional malice.

In a July 17 opinion piece, Tiffany says he is not taking away the rights of teachers, only defending local school boards against frivolous lawsuits borne of “unreasonable hysteria” about COVID-19. “I have thrown my support behind common-sense liability protections that would prevent trial lawyers from targeting our community schools with junk lawsuits during the pandemic,” he writes.

The politics are pretty transparent here. Tiffany, a Republican, is happy to battle both the public school teachers union and trial lawyers--two major Democratic party contributors--in one bill at the same time, even if the legislation has no chance to advance in a Democratically-controlled House of Representatives.

In supporting HR 7152, Rep. Tiffany says he only wants children to return to in-person classes in the fall, not offered computer-based, virtual education at home. Here, he probably speaks for everyone in the Seventh Congressional District. But few, we think, would support opening schools without prudent safeguards against COVID-19, only a ban prohibiting teachers or others suing school districts should they contract the coronavirus.

This is a time when we, as a community, state and nation, need to come together.

We need to support our teachers, just like we need to support all workers.

We need to reject showboat legislation that would seek to crank up campaign donations by stirring up old controversies. Instead, we need to defeat a virus.

We called Tiffany’s office in Washington, D.C. to discuss HR 1752. We never received a call back. That’s a shame. We think Tiffany should be able to explain how he in Washington, D.C. can demand a one-size-fits-all plan to reopen schools in America when, even here in Marathon County, the COVID-19 threat level is dramatically different from one school district to the next.

Our general idea is that you don’t solve problems by taking away people’s rights. Rep. Tiffany, apparently, has a different idea. Let’s hear the congressman defend HR 7152.