Know the Terms of Surrender in Negotiating With Teachers Unions

Courtesy of Show Me Institute

by James C. Sherlock

Franklin Roosevelt thought collective bargaining agreements incompatible with public sector work.

Today’s left, unburdened by the public interest, finds FDR’s principles at best quaint.

Since May of last year collective bargaining is legal in Virginia for local government employees by local option, but for not state employees.

The issues most people think of being negotiated by unions are pay and benefits and, in blue collar unions, on-the-job safety. For teachers unions, we need to be sure negotiations are limited to pay and benefits, or they will take over the running of the schools.

Such a takeover is now policy in Richmond Public Schools.

The law and structural problems. Virginia law provides that a county, city, or town is granted authority to negotiate with a union as “provided for or permitted by a local ordinance or by a resolution.”

There are several structural issues with collective bargaining by teachers unions including:

  • In the locations in Virginia where collective bargaining is permitted, teachers unions form a substantial and influential Democratic voting bloc across the table from elected officials of the same party;
  • The unions can make huge campaign donations. Kids can neither vote nor donate;
  • School boards will bargain with taxpayers’ money, not their own.

But I say pay them what you can. The bigger threat is union control over the day-to-day running of the schools.

Richmond, of course, was first and worst. The school board has fallen headfirst down the rabbit hole.

In December the Richmond School Board approved a resolution that fully opened the flood gates:

Examples of stated topics of negotiation include, but will not be limited to:
1. Wages: may include salary, stipends, bonuses, and the development, and application of salary schedules;
2. Hours and Scheduling: may include establishment of the workday/week, planning time flex/or compensatory time, and additional duties;
3. Retirement: may include payments for accrued leave, and participation in group benefits;
4. Benefits: may include participation in group health plan, dental plan, and disability and other insurance plans;
5. Health and Safety: may include safety equipment, work environment, and procedures in the event of communicable diseases;
6. Work Rules: may include procedures for reporting absences, and qualifying for leave, planning time, breaks, and lunch periods.
7. Evaluations: may include observations, walk-throughs, goal setting procedures, and communication of evaluation results;
8. Discipline: may include policies and procedures for letters of concern, reprimands, administrative leave, suspension, and dismissal;
9. Other Terms and Conditions of Employment: may include lessons plans, flex time, leave, calendar development, lead teacher and other building level appointments, and coaching contracts; and
10. Quality of Life Issues: may include additional duties, access to employee assistance programs, and extracurricular activities.

[Bolding added]

What could possibly go wrong, you say? They left out lawn maintenance. But maybe that is a quality-of-life issue.

The resolution that they approved had the audacity in the preamble to quote FDR about collective bargaining. They neglected to mention his views on public unions.

It somehow failed to mention improving the quality of the schools. In Richmond. Perfect.

WRIC (ABC) breathlessly reported that “The Richmond School Board voted overwhelmingly to approve a resolution allowing teachers and other school staff the right to join a union and bargain collectively for pay and benefits.” [emphasis added]. Emmy-worthy.

So who, exactly, will be in charge of Richmond Public Schools going forward? You have your answer.

But there is, perhaps, a law that prohibits school boards from negotiating school policy: Code of Virginia § 22.1-79. Powers and duties.

A school board shall:
5. Insofar as not inconsistent with state statutes and regulations of the Board of Education, operate and maintain the public schools in the school division and determine the length of the school term, the studies to be pursued, the methods of teaching and the government to be employed in the schools;

I am not sure that can be outsourced.

Article VII Section 7 of the Virginia Constitution: “The supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.” That wording is also in Code of Virginia § 22.1-28.

I find nothing in § 40.1-57.2. Collective bargaining that addresses the negotiation of such matters, much less authorizes negotiation of the powers and duties of the school boards.

But then I am not an attorney.

An experienced voice for school quality. Let’s consider the experiences of someone who has had to battle big-city teachers unions to create what is the nation’s most successful education system for poor and minority students.

Eva Moskowitz is the CEO of New York City’s 47-campus Success Academy. She describes herself as an FDR liberal Democrat. She grew up in Harlem and was elected to the New York City Council as a Democrat from the Upper East Side. She voluntarily gave up her seat at the end of her term because “I just thought (the New York City school system) wasn’t working.”

Ms. Moskowitz started Success Academy with its first school in Harlem. She was its principal. She expanded her system under Mayor Bloomberg.

In a PBS Firing Line interview on January 28, Ms. Moskowitz offered the following when asked about what makes her charter schools work compared to NYC’s other public schools.

Charter schools are public schools, publicly funded, publicly regulated. But they are independent of the union contracts on the one hand and the managerial bureaucracy on the other hand. Whereas district schools are caught between those two forces, meaning the educational bureaucracy and the labor contracts.

More about labor contracts.

Interviewer: How do your students benefit from not having unionized teachers?

Moskowitz: Well, the unions in urban school systems govern every aspect of the schooling. [Bolding added]

Interviewer: Give me an example.

Moskowitz: Student-teacher contact in high school, according to the New York City union contract, is limited to 3.75 hours. No more. If I’m a teacher, I can’t have more contact. Well, what if my students need tutoring after school? Nope. It is confined. If you’re my principal and I’m a teacher in a district school, you’re not allowed to observe whenever you have time or whenever you think it would be beneficial to my development. You have to announce when you’re going to do it. You can only observe a set number of times a year. The regulatory framework governing schools is antithetical to developing quality in learning and developing teachers, and putting the learning of the students first. I mean, I couldn’t do what I do if I were subject to the New York City union contract.[Bolding added]

Interviewer: Should teachers unions be reformed or should they just be abolished?

Moskowitz: You know, I can imagine a limited role in terms of wages and benefits. As a historian, I certainly am aware of laborers being taken advantage of historically in this country. So I could imagine that. But I can’t imagine dictating every aspect of schooling. [Bolding added]

She hasn’t been to Richmond.

What to do?  The Richmond School Board has jumped off a cliff. Alexandria’s Ordinance # 5336 on the other hand is far more protective of the city’s rights and authority. Section 2-5-70 lays those out.

Other Virginia counties, cities, and towns who choose to negotiate with unions have a choice to make. Do they negotiate only on pay and benefits, or is the running of the schools on the table?

If your county, town or city chooses to negotiate with teachers unions, make sure you understand the terms of surrender.

And someone may wish to challenge Richmond’s resolution on legal grounds.

Updated Mar 15 at 3:09 PM