The Sunday Tennessean had an article titled “Tennessee teachers union gets mixed grades.”  At one point the article states:

Supporters of the teachers union say efforts to end collective bargaining rules are meant to reverse the gains made by teachers.

“I know what it was like before collective bargaining, and I know what it was like with collective bargaining, so

I know what it will be like without collective bargaining,” said Mary Pappas, the president of the Sumner County Education Association, a TEA affiliate.

“Immediately nothing major will happen, but that tradition of respecting teachers and their workday is eroded.”

Let’s look at this statement.  Has collective bargaining made substantial gains for teachers?  The paperThe Effects of Teachers Unions on American Education” by Andrew J. Coulson makes the case that collective bargaining offers only minimal returns within the public school sector, however, the real benefit the unions provide their members is protecting them from having to compete in the educational marketplace. The NEA and AFT spend large sums on political lobbying so that public school districts maintain their monopoly control of well over half a trillion dollars in annual U.S. K-12 education spending.

That monopoly, in turn, offers a more than 40 percent average compensation premium over the private sector, along with greater job security. And since both the U.S. and international  research indicate that achievement and efficiency are generally higher in private sector—and particularly competitive market—education systems, the public school monopoly imposes an enormous cost on American children and taxpayers.

Let’s take a closer look.  Has collective bargaining been responsible for the increase in wages?

The  AFT  pioneered  public  school collective  bargaining  in  the  style  of  industrial  unions  in  1961… the most significant period of growth in public school unionization and collective bargaining in the United States stretched from the mid 1960s through the early 1970s. But a glance at Figure 1 reveals that by the time this period of intensive union action began, teachers’ salaries had already been rising rapidly for well  over  a  decade,  and  real  wages  actually  declined  for  a  solid decade  just  as  unionization  was  reaching  a  peak  (see  Figure  2).


…unionization raises a public school district’s per pupil spending between  4.3  percent  and  9  percent,  relative  to  nonunionized  districts…union spending  premium was chiefly allocated to higher salaries and smaller classes.  The real union wage premium is somewhere between zero and 10 percent.

However, there is a

…42 percent compensation premium that divides public from private sector teachers. In other words, public school employee unions may succeed in fattening their members’ paychecks to some extent, but the bulk of the wage premium enjoyed by public school teachers over their private sector peers [which] cannot be credited to collective bargaining.

Further, evidence shows unions contribute to compressed wages.

…teachers union lobbying in particular “has often halted efforts to legislate performance-based rewards.”

…public schools have more compressed wage structures than (overwhelmingly nonunion) private schools, even when the private schools nominally have similar pay schedules.

…between 1963 and 2000, “Pay compression increased the share of the lowest aptitude female college graduates who became teachers by about 9 percentage points and decreased the share of the highest-aptitude female college graduates who become teachers by about 12 percentage points…teachers with higher test scores and better college records leave their jobs at higher rates.”  “Even in [public school] districts that are not unionized, salary scales that resemble union scales are the rule.

Thus, factors other than unionization were at play in impacting teacher salaries.  So what were they?

Since 1990 the National Education Association has donated approximately $30 million in federal campaign contributions and the American Federation of Teachers has donated approximately $28 million in federal campaign contributions.  It is through political patronage, not collective bargaining that the teachers unions protect their members…from competition.  The unions already enjoy a monopoly on nearly $600 billion in annual government education spending.  The NEA and AFT minimize competition by using their resources to influence the election of sympathetic school board members and members of state legislatures or to gain political influence over the election of the governor or appointment/election of the state superintendent or commissioner of education. At the national level they became active and influential supporters of candidates and became an influential voice on education bills being considered by Congress.

For example let’s look at Wisconsin.  The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board released a report detailing expenditures of the top 10 lobbying groups in the state. According to the report, “the Wisconsin Education Association [WEA] spent $1.5 million in 2009 lobbying state lawmakers, nearly twice as much as the next-largest spender.”  During the 2009–2010 legislative session, the WEA spent $1.5 million and more than 7,000 hours lobbying for more funding for local school districts, against school choice and charter options, against the creation of a tuition tax credit program, and against lifting the cap on virtual schools.

Teachers need to understand:

  1. Their wages were on the upswing before they could collectively bargain and collective bargaining has had minimal impact and that is only through a monopoly hold.
  2. Their unions are the problem.  The unions are preventing the free market reforms that education needs.  This is a good time to point out no one blames the teachers.  We all appreciate what teachers do, but their unions and their support of the union is where responsibility for our failing education system lies.
  3. Teachers will benefit from free market education reforms just as much as the children.  It would greatly expand their options.  The good teachers will be recruited and valued and the bad ones will be forced to improve or get out.  Teachers should be treated like the professionals they are instead of cash cows for the unions.
    1. As many teachers faced layoffs, the United Federation of Teachers spent $1.4 million on their 50th anniversary gala last year
    2. Union leaders receive exorbitant salaries. NEA president Dennis Van Roekel received approximately $300,000, and NEA treasurer Rebecca Pringle received $321,000 in 2009. Several executive board members earned well over $200,000.
  4. Many teachers disagree with the social policies their unions endorse and lobby for, yet teachers must bare some responsibility for these policies by their support of the union.
    1. An NEA member survey found that 50 percent of dues-paying members identified themselves as being more conservative than liberal, but 91 percent of the NEA’s campaign and political contributions went to left-leaning causes.
  5. More money is not the answer to improving education and this fact has categorically been proven false (see figure 3).

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