Workers Should Not Be Forced to Accept a Union’s Services
Well-intentioned critics of teacher union officials often complain that they favor the interests of educators over those of schoolchildren. For several reasons, this is a flawed line of attack. The key problem is its underlying assumption, shared by apologists for Big Labor control over K-12 education employees, that public policies cannot favor one group of teachers over another. The fact is, as Heritage Foundation Senior Policy Analyst James Sherk amply demonstrates in a backgrounder published last month (see the link above), a number of the contract terms routinely backed by teacher union bosses in their negotiations with school boards benefit some teachers at the expense of others. Vast numbers of conscientious and hardworking teachers, as well as schoolchildren, their parents and taxpayers, suffer as a consequence of the excessive powers granted to education unions by state statutes and executive orders.
The single most important government union privilege, now statutorily authorized and promoted in public education in more than 30 states, is monopoly bargaining. Sherk explains:
The law currently forces workers in a bargaining unit to accept a single representative. If the majority votes for a certain union, then everyone must accept the same representative, and the contract that union negotiates. This leads to one-size-fits-all contracts that ignore the needs of individual employees. Merely requiring unions to run for re-election does not solve this problem. It still leaves every worker represented by the same agent and under one contract.
Congress and state legislatures should give workers representative choice: allow employees to designate any person as their bargaining representative. The law should allow individual workers to select different unions to represent them, or to represent themselves if they so choose.
Education union bosses want every teacher to be dependent upon the union, rather than his or her personal talents and work ethic, for job security and pay increases. Thatâ€™s why, as Sherk explains, unions typically negotiate seniority-based layoffs:
When bad times come, the newest hires get laid off first. This is why Nevada laid off seven Teachers of the Year. Senior union members strongly support the seniority-based layoffs. Newer workers would rather not be sacrificed to protect senior employees. They would prefer layoffs based on performance. However, junior employees have little clout in the union, so unions negotiate seniority-based layoffs.
The excessive power of education union officials can also often result in lower starting pay for teachers:
Similarly, senior union members highly value retirement benefitsâ€”they are much closer to retirement. Having gained seniority-based raises, they care less about starting salaries. New graduates care much more about starting pay and less about retirement benefits. Since senior employees have more clout in the union, union contracts reflect their preferencesâ€”not those of new hires. A disproportionate share of the compensation of public-school teachers, for example, goes toward retirement benefits. This makes it harder for school districts to attract good potential teachers.
The harmful practical consequences of teacher union monopoly bargaining and forced union dues are good reasons for repealing the laws that authorize these policies. And even forcing teacher unions to submit to regular recertification elections to retain their monopoly-bargaining privileges, as Sherk alternatively advocates, would be a modest step in the right direction.
But the fundamental reason for repealing all statutes and revoking all executive orders that hand union bosses monopoly-bargaining power over employees is that government-established cartels are bad in principle. Back in 1935, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized in the Schechter case that it is unconstitutional for public policy to empower a majority of business owners in an industry to dictate to the minority the price and other terms at which they sell their wares. Unfortunately, a couple of years later the High Court decided to look the other way when Congress empowered employees favoring unionization to dictate the negotiating positions of employees who wish to remain union-free.
In his 1778 pamphlet â€œOn Government,â€ Founding Father John Adams explained why such cynical misapplications of the majority-rule principle are wrong:
To remedy the dangers attendant upon the arbitrary use of power, checks, however multiplied, will scarcely avail without an explicit admission of some limitation of the right of the majority to exercise sovereign authority over the individual citizen.