Collective Bargaining Disagreement

Collective bargaining serves neither students, competent teachers, nor taxpayers.

A new study reveals that collective bargaining for teachers has a negative effect on future earnings, occupational skill levels and hours worked. Writing in Education Next, researchers Michael Lovenheim and Alexander Willen dissect the long-term ramifications of states that mandate collective bargaining for teachers. While they find no clear effects of collective bargaining laws on how much schooling students ultimately complete, their results do show that laws requiring school districts to engage in the process with teachers unions lead students to be less successful in later life. “Students who spent all 12 years of grade school in a state with a duty-to-bargain law earned an average of $795 less per year and worked half an hour less per week as adults than students who were not exposed to collective-bargaining laws. They are 0.9 percentage points less likely to be employed and 0.8 percentage points less likely to be in the labor force. And those with jobs tend to work in lower-skilled occupations.”

The researchers did a meticulous job adjusting, when necessary, for ethnicity and gender. They also took into account school finance reforms and changes in the generosity of state earned-income tax credits. But taking all the variables into account made little difference in the results, and indeed strengthened their confidence that collective bargaining is responsible for the effects they document.

This is not the first study that found collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) to be detrimental to students. In 2007, Stanford professor Terry Moe reported that collective bargaining “appears to have a strongly negative impact in the larger districts, but it appears to have no effect in smaller districts (except possibly for African American students—which is important indeed if true).”

Frederick Hess, of the American Enterprise Institute, and Martin West from the Brookings Institute point out that CBAs “are vestiges of the industrial economic model that prevailed in the 1950s, when assembly-line workers and low-level managers were valued less for their knowledge or technical skills than for their longevity and willingness to serve loyally as a cog-in-a-top-down enterprise. Collective bargaining contracts are especially problematic on three fronts: 1) they restrict efforts to use compensation as a tool to recruit, reward and retain the most essential and effective teachers, 2) they impede attempts to assign or remove teachers on the basis of fit or performance and 3) they over-regulate school life with work rules that stifle creative problem solving without demonstrably improving teachers’ ability to serve students.”

In this brief video, Stanford researcher Caroline Hoxby details in practical terms how CBAs stifle any management flexibility in determining the best slot for a teacher at a given school as well as denying them the opportunity to get rid of the underperformers – rigidity being the hallmark of CBAs.

So if CBAs don’t do much for students, they surely must benefit teachers, right? Well, no, and they especially penalize the good ones. Low pay, excessive bureaucracy and ineffective colleagues are all attributable to CBAs and anathema to great teachers and high-performing schools. And we lose thousands of our best educators as a result.

Wage compression,” occurs when the salaries of lower paid teachers are raised above the market rate, with the increase offset by reducing pay of the most productive ones. “Why strive to become better if I am not going to be compensated for it?” is the attitude of many. Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute takes it one step further, claiming CBAs hurt the bottom line of all teachers. He compared teachers’ salaries in districts across the country which allow collective bargaining with those that don’t. He found that teachers who worked in districts where the union was not involved actually made more money than those who were in collective bargaining districts. According to Petrilli, “Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers – $64,500 on average versus $57,500.”

CBAs don’t do much for taxpayers either. Professor Joe A. Stone of the University of Oregon writes “In an average California school district, 85 percent of the district’s operating budget is tied to collective bargaining contracts, for both certificated and classified personnel.” (Over Fifty-five percent of California’s general fund expenditures – over $63,000,000,000 – is targeted for education.)

University of Arkansas professor Jay Greene sums it up quite succinctly. “Until the ability of teachers unions to engage in collective bargaining is restrained, we should expect unions to continue to use it to advance the interests of their adult members over those of children, their families, and taxpayers.”

One final note: Union leaders and their fellow travelers love to spread the myth of the “right” to collectively bargain. In fact, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently announced that he is leading a coalition of 20 states and the District of Columbia in filing a friend-of-the-court brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to deny Friedrichs and maintain forced dues payment for public employees. In a press release, Public Advocate Letitia James said, “Collective bargaining is a fundamental right. I join Attorney General Schneiderman in supporting this right, and standing up for collective bargaining.”

But there is no “right” to collectively bargain. David Denholm, president of the Public Service Research Foundation, writes that the “right” is non-existent. He writes, “Collective bargaining is a legislated privilege given to unions by friendly lawmakers.” (“Friendly” in this case, of course, means those put in office by the people sitting across from them at the negotiating table.)

CBAs are wrong for kids, wrong for good teachers and wrong for taxpayers. But they sure work well for union bosses, many of whom make fat salaries that most teachers are forced to pay for the “right” to be exclusively represented by them. Some bargain.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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