Defective bargaining

Defective bargaining

A challenger for governor of California could radically improve education with one executive order.

In a recent opinion piece in The Epoch Times, veteran writer John Seiler put forth a set of strategies for a Republican to beat California Governor Gavin Newsom in the state’s September 14th recall election. Among other things, he suggests that the challengers should “pick just one issue and stick to it no matter what. It should involve something you could do with executive orders, the way Newsom has during the COVID-19 pandemic. The courts have upheld his powers. In any case, campaigning on signing executive orders, even if they’re thrown out later, would be a way to advance this one issue in the minds of the toiling masses.”

Seiler goes on to say that the one issue should be the annulment of SB 160, also known as the Rodda Act, which legalized collective bargaining for school teachers in California in 1975. This law precipitated the downfall of public education in the Golden State, as the introduction of the unions into the educational process made for an adversarial relationship between school districts and teachers, thus undermining the “the common vision of excellence previously shared by administrators, teachers, parents, students, and community leaders.” The scope of negotiable issues uncorked by the Rodda Act includes wages, hours of employment, health and welfare benefits, leaves, transfers, reassignments, safety conditions, class size, evaluation procedures, organizational security, certain aspects of layoffs, procedures for grievances and discipline, etc.

The Rodda Act put the unions on both sides of the negotiation table – on one side as the employee and on the other as the employer, because the union funds the campaigns of labor-friendly politicians. Since the unions’ prime focus is on teachers, not students, it’s no wonder that teacher pension costs have soared and student test scores have plummeted since the act became law. Seiler drives his point home by quoting Alex Caputo-Pearl, former president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, who, in February 2020, wrote on his union’s blog, “The school board is our boss. We have a unique power—we elect our bosses. It would be difficult to think of workers anywhere else who elect their bosses. We do. We must take advantage of it.”

A teachers union’s essence is its collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which, as policy experts Rick Hess and Martin West write, is a vestige 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.” While CBAs may be the cornerstone of the unions’ raison d’être, these agreements have been a disaster for students and good teachers.

The Long-run Effects of Teacher Collective Bargaining,” a 2018 study by researchers Michael Lovenheim and Alexander Willen, found that, among men, exposure to a duty-to-bargain law in the first 10 years after passage depresses students’ future annual earnings by $2,134 (3.93 percent), decreases weekly hours worked by 0.42, and reduces employment and labor force participation.

The Lovenheim-Willen study was not the first to detail CBA’s harm to students. In 2007, Stanford professor Terry Moe reported that collective bargaining appears to have a strongly negative impact in larger school districts.

Caroline Hoxby, also a professor at Stanford, made a three-minute video in 2009 in which she explains in plain language how CBAs stifle any management flexibility in determining the best slot for a teacher at a given school, as well as denying schools the opportunity to get rid of underperformers.

Good teachers also are hurt by CBAs. “Wage compression” occurs when the salaries of lower paid teachers are raised above the market rate, with the increase offset by reducing the 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. According to Petrilli, “Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers – $64,500 on average versus $57,500.” Petrilli’s study was from 2011, and research from Michael Lovenheim in 2009 and Andrew Coulson in 2010 bore similar results. Also, University of California San Diego professor Augustina Pagalayan reported in 2018 that CBAs do not improve teacher pay.

Barbara Biasi, a fellow in Industrial Relations at Princeton, has studied the teacher salary issues. She focused on Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s Act 10 in 2011, which all but eliminated collective bargaining for teachers and created a marketplace where school districts could compete for better educators by paying valued teachers more. Among Biasi’s findings is that there is a “34 percent increase in the quality of teachers moving from salary-schedule to individual-salary districts, and a 17 percent decrease in the quality of teachers exiting individual-salary districts.” In fact, about half of Wisconsin’s school districts abandoned their lock-step salary schedules and began to pay teachers for performance, for having advanced math and science skills, taking difficult assignments, etc. 

Seiler explains that the reasons the Rodda Act needs to be rescinded are clear in California’s Constitution. Notably, he points to Article I, Section 31 which stipulates: “The State shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” And via collectively bargained issues like the tenure and seniority statutes, the poor and minority students are disparately affected. While these matters could still become an issue in the much less confrontational “meet and confer” model, they are guaranteed to be present in a CBA.

Should Rodda be eliminated, union advocates will scream about their “right” to collectively bargain. But as David Denholm, president of the Public Service Research Foundation, points out 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.) Even progressive icon Franklin Delano Roosevelt noted in 1937 that the very nature of government makes it impossible for its leaders to enter into negotiations with any union.

A replacement for union toady Gavin Newsom could do wonders for education in California. And for a new governor, there is no better place to start then getting rid of the rotten Rodda Act. The children and good teachers in our beleaguered state deserve better. If nothing else, it would expose teacher union honchos, who audaciously embrace “progressivism” – social justice, Black Lives Matter and Critical Race Theory – as the frauds they are.

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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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