For roughly half a century, government union bosses in Wisconsin wielded statutory power to act as public educators’ “exclusive” bargaining agents with school officials regarding matters of pay, benefits, and work rules. And for roughly four decades starting in 1971, government union bosses also had the power to get teachers fired for refusal to pay dues or fees to a union.
The monopoly-bargaining system harmed public education in many ways, but the “golden handcuffs” put on talented teachers by specially privileged union bosses and complaisant school districts were a particularly obnoxious feature. Teachers who did their jobs outstandingly and/or had rare skills could not, in most cases, move to another school district offering them better pay without losing the years of credit they had already accrued towards their pension and retirement health benefits. In practice, experienced teachers had no real choice but to stay put.
All this changed with the 2011 passage into law of Act 10, a sweeping reform of public-sector compensation and labor policies that eliminated forced union dues and fees and greatly rolled back government union bosses’ monopoly-bargaining privileges. Under Act 10, union bigwigs no longer have the power to codetermine with school districts the benefits and work rules for teachers and other K-12 employees, and even Big Labor’s power to call the shots over employee pay is much more limited than before. (The National Right to Work Committee’s Badger State members helped mobilized massive public support for this law and thus deserve some of the credit for its enactment.)
Thanks to Act 10, taxpayers have saved billions of dollars, and good teachers in Wisconsin can now move from district to district without being financially penalized. As Rick Esenberg, president of the Wisconsin Institue for Law & Liberty (WILL), and two of his staff members explain in the op-ed linked below, every sensible person who cares about what’s best for educators, schoolchildren and taxpayers ought to be happy about this development:
Act 10, Wisconsin’s 2011 collective bargaining reform law, has freed school districts to compete for teachers. This empowers the very best teachers — a group that is said to be seriously underpaid — to seek the best opportunities for themselves and their families.
But teacher union bosses and Wisconsin state Superintendant of Public Instruction Tony Evers, whom they helped elect and reelect, are deeply upset by the fact that Act 10 has, to quote Esenberg and his colleagues again, “created a new teacher marketplace in which competition between school districts has allowed good teachers to move to districts that can provide a better opportunity, including higher pay.”
In fact, Evers is now publicly encouraging the union brass to bring to case a court contending, in effect, that the Wisconsin Constitution mandates that teachers once again be shackled by Big Labor’s “golden handcuffs.”
As the WILL op-ed explains, Evers’ constitutional speculations are absurd. But if government union bosses in Wisconsin, with the assistance, no doubt, of the national teacher union hierarchy, choose to make it the basis of a new lawsuit to overturn Act 10, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation stands ready to fight back in court on behalf of independent-minded Wisconsin public employees.