Union bosses do — at the expense of good teachers, children, their parents and taxpayers.  

In a tribute to Labor Day, the California Teachers Association has put up a slobbering web page as a paean to the labor movement. Its unintentionally humorous title is “Organized Labor – Proud and Free.”

Free? 

Actually, it is very costly. Here in California, a non-right-to-work state, teachers must fork up over $1,000 a year in order to work in a public school. (They can pay a little less if they choose not to support the union’s political agenda.) And all teachers are forced to be a part of the collective bargaining (CB) unit. 

Collective bargaining, a term first introduced into the lexicon by socialist Beatrice Webb in 1891, is a process of negotiations between employers and employees aimed at reaching agreements that regulate working conditions. The workers are commonly represented by a union, and the agreements reached by this arrangement set wage scales, working hours, teacher training, etc. 

It sounds like a good deal for teachers, but is it?

“Exclusive representation” (more accurately, monopoly bargaining) privileges are the source of compulsory union power.

Handed to union officials by Congress in the National Labor Relations Act, monopoly bargaining gives union kingpins the leverage to herd workers into unions and then force them to pay union dues.

Under federal law, if union organizers win a representation election by even 50% plus one of those voting, they are empowered to negotiate contracts on behalf of all 100% of the workers. In fact, under some circumstances, union officials become monopoly “representatives” even when most workers are against them! And by law each and every worker loses his or her right to negotiate directly with the employer on his or her own behalf.

So problem #1 with CB is that teachers are forced to go along with the 50 percent plus one even if they would rather negotiate their own contacts. 

Do good teachers benefit from CB? 

According to “Perspectives of Irreplaceable Teachers,” a recent study commissioned by TNTP, 

Our respondents cherish the opportunity to make a difference in their students’ lives, but they feel beaten down by many aspects of the profession, like low pay, excessive bureaucracy, and ineffective leaders and colleagues. About 60 percent plan to stop teaching within five years as a result. (Emphasis added.)

Low pay, excessive bureaucracy and ineffective colleagues are all attributable to CB contracts and anathema to great teachers. 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.

Also, where CB exists, teachers’ salaries are typically determined by years on the job and any “professional development” classes they take. Teacher quality and student learning are rarely taken into account. Hence, CB encourages mediocrity.

The “excessive bureaucracy” is created in part by the CB agreement. Top-down, restrictive union demands dictate a teacher’s every move. The union contract with the Los Angeles Unified School District, hardly atypical, weighs in at a flatulent 349 pages. Good teachers need latitude, not piles of union mandates. At the same time, “irreplaceable” teachers are beaten down by a system with too many “ineffective colleagues.”

Do children, parents and taxpayers benefit from CB?

As Stanford Professor Terry Moe has pointed out, a union dominated school system often ignores the needs of children, especially minorities. In an in-depth study, he found 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)….

·         Among the larger districts, collective bargaining has more negative effects for high-minority schools than for other schools….

Although the findings are weaker on this count, the best evidence indicates that the impact of collective bargaining is especially negative for schools that are “relatively” high minority within a given (larger) district….

Another Stanford professor, Caroline Hoxby, came up with pretty much the same conclusion in a detailed empirical study: collective bargaining has a negative impact on teacher performance.

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.”

Other ways that CB damages education:

·         Management’s authority and freedom are much more restricted by negotiated rules.

·         Creates significant potential for polarization between employees and managers.

·         Disproportionate effect of relatively few active employees on the many in the bargaining unit.This is particularly the case when collective bargaining involves a system-wide structure of elections, or when an earlier workforce voted the union in and the current one doesn’t want it.

·         Decreases flexibility and requires longer time needed for decision making.

·         Protects the status quo, thereby inhibiting innovation and change. 

·         Higher management costs associated with negotiating and administering the agreements.

·         Eliminates ability of management to make unilateral changes in wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.

·         Restricts management’s ability to deal directly with individual employees.

Collective bargaining can have a detrimental effect on all teachers. 

Not surprisingly, when forced to negotiate with their own staff, teachers unions turn into management and are often tyrannical. But ultimately it doesn’t matter which side prevails. As Mike Antonucci writes, 

No matter which side prevails in labor disputes between union management and staff, one group always loses – teachers and education support employees. To avoid embarrassment, many teacher union officials cave in to staff demands, which means teachers must pay higher dues to receive union services. But union managers reveal their own hypocrisy when they play hardball and use tactics even the most anti-union school administrator would shun. Staff unions rightly note that these union methods only embolden school districts to use the same methods themselves — to the detriment of unionized teachers. (Emphasis added.) 

So just who are the big winners from collective bargaining? 

The only absolute winners are the union bosses, who at the end of the day line their pockets with hefty salaries that teachers are forced to pay them in most states for the “privilege” to collectively bargain for them. 

What a racket.

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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

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