Creative Collective Bargaining--U.A.W. Style

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

The recent contracts signed by the United Auto Workers with Ford and General Motors represent a watershed in the history of collective bargaining. Workers gave up salary and fringe benefits to gain job security and profit sharing. The catalyst for this unique development was the need to make the auto industry competitive. The economic survival of both workers and management required a new approach to negotiations.

Education is a public industry that also faces serious problems. Voucher systems and tax-credit plans threaten the very existence of public elementary and secondary education. Other problems are a declining student population, decreasing budgets, a surplus of teachers in most license areas, unneeded buildings, a shortage of young teachers, and a general attitude of public disenchantment with education.

Professional educators have waited for the traditional policy-making institutions to solve some of the problems. University colleges of education should have reduced the surplus of teachers. Enlightened legislators should have resolved budget problems. Boards of education should have instituted reforms that would have restored public confidence in public schools. But solutions to the problems did not come from traditional sources, and there is little indication that these groups are capable of offering any meaningful assistance in the near future.

The only realistic hope for improving public education appears to rest upon creative collective bargaining between teachers' unions and boards of education. Teachers will have to give up the concept that a good contract equates salary increases with the inflation index. Boards of education will have to give up the idea that a good contract is one that costs very little and takes advantage of the current anti-union public attitude.

If both sides enter negotiations with the understanding that a good contract will provide for a just wage settlement and also contain provisions that will lead to a better instructional system, we can do for the public sector what the UAW contracts will do for the private sector.

Creative collective bargaining in public education could solve some of our current problems if the following kinds of agreements were included in new contracts.

  • Offer an early retirement bonus for senior teachers. Senior teachers in most school systems earn at least twice as much in salary, retirement, and other fringe benefits as beginning teachers. Assume that a teacher eligible for retirement earns $30,000 per year in wages and benefits. The teacher is offered a $15,000 retirement bonus and is replaced by a new teacher earning $15,000 per year. The financial benefit to the taxpayer is illustrated by the table on this page.
  • The board of education saves over $30,000 during a three-year contract. In order for this plan to work, the teacher would be offered the retirement bonus only for the first year of the contract. Retirement financing should not cost the board of education any money because these funds have already been paid into the retirement system.

    There are other indirect but important benefits to this plan. There is a shortage of new, young teachers in many school systems because declines in enrollments have meant fewer teachers are needed, and seniority provisions in union contracts have given older teachers priority. The proposed bonus should encourage older teachers to retire and allow young professionals to be hired. Every school benefits from involvement in the dynamics of teacher training and exposure to the enthusiasm of new teachers. Many schools cannot find volunteers to coach teams, organize assembly programs, direct a school play, or coordinate publication of a school newspaper. These tasks have always fallen to the younger teachers, and most older teachers no longer want the assignments.

  • Payment for auxiliary licenses. There is a surplus of teachers in areas such as art, elementary education, physical education, social studies, and home economics. There is a shortage of teachers in mathematics, science, industrial arts, and vocational trades. One way to cope with this shortage is for boards of education to eliminate pay increases for longevity in teaching or an accumulation of in-service courses and substitute payment for an additional license earned by a teacher already licensed and working in a different subject. Physical-education teachers, for example, also could be certified for choice teaching positions by taking a few extra courses. The teacher becomes more valuable to the school, which offers payment according to value.
  • This system would also eliminate the practice among teachers of taking a hodgepodge of graduate courses--a practice that generates income for colleges but does little to improve instruction in the schools. Many teachers would enjoy getting an auxiliary license in industrial arts if they knew it would help them obtain increases in pay. The seniority rules should also be changed to provide greater job security for teachers who have obtained such licenses in addition to their regular license.

  • Payment for unused sick days. A per diem substitute teacher, regardless of his or her ability, is not as effective in a classroom as the regular teacher. Principals know this. Parents know it. Teachers know it. Yet boards of education have done little to encourage maximum teacher attendance.
  • In most school systems, teachers are entitled to 10 sick days a year. A sick teacher should not be in school and is entitled to sick pay.

    However, there is no financial incentive for teachers to report to school on those marginal days when they are not feeling completely up to par but could work.

    If a school system pays substitute teachers $50 per day, one regular teacher who is absent 10 days a year costs the taxpayers $500. The regular teacher is paid regardless of his or her absence, as provided for by the union contract.

    One way to reduce absenteeism is to offer teachers part of the payment needed in the budget to hire substitutes. The payment should be offered for the course of the contract.

    If a new three-year-contract is signed the teacher would be eligible for 30 days absence over the life of the contract. A teacher who takes those days costs the board $1,500.

    A teacher who is absent fewer than 10 days over the three-year period could be given a bonus of $1,000 and still keep the unused sick days in case of future serious illness that required hospitalization.

    This would provide financial incentive for teachers to be in the classroom and, more important, improve instruction in the schools.

  • A codicil to improve the schools. The suggestions already described will help restore the public's faith in the financial integrity of public education. Payments are made for actions that will have a positive educational effect and directly benefit students.

Collective bargaining, however, can only have an overall impact on education if it achieves results that truly change schools for the better.

Teachers' unions will have to stop bargaining almost exclusively over bread-and-butter issues, such as salaries and fringe benefits, and insist on their right to enter an era of professional negotiations. The scope of the union's right to negotiate working conditions should be expanded to include school policy.

Board of education negotiators might claim that the unions are infringing on management's prerogatives and balk at bargaining over educational-policy decisions. This contention should be rejected because bargaining in public education does not truly fit the industrial union model of workers negotiating with management. Board of education negotiators are not school management. They do not work in the schools and have no daily supervisory responsibility for teachers. Principals and superintendents are the education management and neither of these groups are directly involved in negotiations. The unions' right to be involved in policy-making decisions is reflected in the fact that Douglas Fraser, UAW president, now participates in Chrysler Board of Directors' meetings.

The first local teachers' union and board of education agreement that establishes the right to bargain over educational policy matters will serve as the watershed contract that could transform collective bargaining into professional negotiations. There will be no real improvement in the schools until this happens.

After financial matters are resolved the negotiators should add a codicil for school improvement to the contract. The implication would be that both the teachers' union and the board of education agree to implement listed changes or to jointly request legislation for change.

If the following recommendations were included in a codicil, improvement in the schools would be quick and dramatic.

Creation of a teacher intern system. There is a general consensus among professionals that school-based training of new teachers is superior to college-based training. Vested interests have tried to prevent such a change. Under a negotiated agreement, college graduates with state teaching licenses could work for one year at 50 percent of the starting salary and teach only 50 percent of the required classes. The remaining time could be spent with master teachers assigned to help train the new teachers. This would cost boards of education nothing because they would have two half-time teachers at the same price as one full-time teacher. The teaching interns, if service was rated satisfactory, would be offered any full-time vacancies the following year. University graduate credit could also be applied for the internship experience.

Establish educational standards. There is a general complaint that runs through the educational system: Colleges complain that high-school graduates can't read and write; high schools complain that elementary-school graduates can't read or write; and elementary schools complain that parents don't prepare children to learn to read and write. Professional negotiations could establish meaningful standards that would be accepted by the public. Elementary schools should not be permitted to issue a diploma unless students attain a definite level of achievement as determined by standardized state examinations. High schools should issue differentiated diplomas such as Academic or College Prep, Commercial, Trade or Technical. The school principal would certify a diploma indicating the level of achievement.

For many years, schools issued differentiated diplomas, and the colleges knew that an applicant with an academic diploma could do college-level work without needing remediation classes. Employers knew a student with a commercial diploma could spell, type, and take shorthand with an acceptable degree of expertise. Tradesmen would hire a student with a vocational diploma and be sure that the student had acquired basic skills in the area identified on the diploma.

Many systems issued such diplomas until misguided egalitarians decided that it was not a good idea. Now all students receive the same diploma, and colleges and employers have little faith in any of them. High-school principals now sign diplomas that certify only that a student went to school for four years and took a smorgasbord of courses. A collective-bargaining agreement requiring a differentiated diploma will improve education dramatically and will not cost the taxpayers 10 cents.

Establish discipline standards. One of the main reasons for the widespread disenchantment with public education is the common perception that there is no real discipline in the schools. This perception is often in error, but a collective-bargaining agreement that sets definite and enforceable discipline standards will be welcomed by the community. For example, a meaningful discipline system might include the following:

A teacher would have the right to remove a disruptive student from a class. This right would be monitored by the superintendent. We should pass legislation that states that only students who do not interfere with the learning of others are entitled to a traditional public education. Boards of education would have to establish alternative learning centers for students who do interfere.

School discipline today in urban systems is a legalistic quagmire cre-ated by civil libertarians and lenient judges who have substituted their questionable interpretation of the rights of students for the experienced understanding of teachers and administrators. Too often, the rights of the individual supercede the right of the majority to a safe and secure learning environment. This issue can only be resolved by an agreement to lobby for needed local and state legislation.

Establish attendance and citizenship standards. A student should not receive a diploma from any elementary, middle, or high school unless specific standards for attendance and citizenship have been met. The attendance requirement can be negotiated and provide the means for worthy students to make up missed time.

The list of needed reforms could be extended to include such items as: economies of scale in education--many professionals feel the large 4,000 student comprehensive high school is an unworkable model; the best grade structure for public education--4,4,4 or K-8 and 9-12; special education and mainstreaming.

Some of the suggestions made here may be unacceptable to many school districts, and union members may not be in general agreement on some issues. It is clear, however, that those involved in public education on a daily basis can't wait for others to supply remedies. Creative collective bargaining that focuses on professional concerns and discusses more than bread-and-butter issues is the only hope for significant improvement.

Vol. 01, Issue 33, Page 24, 20

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories