Despite what teachers unions tell you, collective bargaining is bad for kids and country.
Ask any teacher unionista – leader or camp follower – and they will tell you with great assuredness that when teachers are organized and collectively bargain, children are better educated. To bolster their argument, they say things like unions enable teachers to “advocate for children and schools without facing retaliation.” Or that unions give teachers a “voice in policy decisions and allow them to be advocates for higher education spending.”
So let’s examine the data. “The Long-run Effects of Teacher Collective Bargaining,” a study by Cornell researchers Michael Lovenheim and Alexander Willen, was presented at the annual American Economic Association meeting in Philadelphia earlier this month. (H/T Jason Bedrick.) Their carefully constructed analysis examined “labor market outcomes and educational attainment for 35-49 year olds” and found that teacher collective bargaining worsens the future labor market outcomes of students. In states that have collective bargaining laws for all 12 grade-school years, earnings are reduced “by $800 (or 2%) per year and decreases hours worked by 0.50 hours per week. The earnings estimate indicates that teacher collective bargaining reduces earnings by $199.6 billion in the US annually. We also find evidence of lower employment rates, which is driven by lower labor force participation, as well as reductions in the skill levels of the occupations into which workers sort.” (Emphasis added.) The study found that minorities are especially negatively affected by collective bargaining.
The results should not surprise anyone who is familiar with the highly unprofessional nature of collective bargaining. As the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess and Martin West from the Brookings Institution point out, collective bargaining agreements (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.”
“Willingness to serve loyally as a cog-in-a-top-down enterprise” is not what we want in our teachers, even if labor leaders claim that being in the union gives teachers “a voice.” (A voice?! Unless you toe the union party line, you may as well have had a laryngectomy.)
The Lovenheim/Willen analysis is not the first to find damage done by collective bargaining. 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).” Caroline Hoxby, Professor of Economics at Stanford University, 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 them the opportunity to get rid of underperformers.
The Lovenheim/Willen study was one of several at the AEA gathering to address teachers unions. An analysis by University of Connecticut researchers found that in states with the strongest teacher unions (and most restrictive CBAs), school districts greatly increased education expenditures compared to states with weaker teacher unions.
Barbara Biasi, a postdoctoral fellow in Industrial Relations at Princeton University, also presented a paper in which she found that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s Act 10, instituted in 2011, created a marketplace for teachers where public school districts compete for better employees. For instance, a district can pay more to recruit and retain “high-value added teachers – that is, those who most improve student learning. Districts can also cap salaries of low-performing teachers, which might encourage them to quit or leave for other districts.” 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.” Act 10 provided sweeping changes in collective bargaining, compensation, retirement, health insurance, and sick leave for public sector employees and has saved taxpayers over $5 billion to date.
Collective bargaining is wrong for teachers who want to be considered professionals, and harmful to students and taxpayers, but it is the cornerstone of teachers unions. Legislators and governors, who are responsible for creating and maintaining the defective system, need to recognize the evils of CBAs, step up to the plate and dismantle them. A close study of Wisconsin’s Act 10 would be a terrific place to begin.
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.