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Teacher Freedom in a Post-Janus World

eye on the news

Teacher Freedom in a Post-Janus World

The crucial Supreme Court ruling is just a first step toward reducing public-sector union power, but more reforms are needed. October 2, 2018
Education
Politics and law

The Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision in June freed government workers nationwide—including public school teachers—from being forced to pay money to unions as a condition of employment. But that ruling was just a start toward liberating public servants from the grip of the unions that control their jobs. The next step should be eliminating the unions’ ability to establish themselves as exclusive representatives of all employees.

Even in a post-Janus world, unions in most states hold all the power in negotiating salary, benefits, and work conditions. Were teachers allowed to bargain for themselves or even to form a rival union, Big Labor would face its worst nightmare, something even more abhorrent than a right-to-work country: competition. As teacher-union watchdog Mike Antonucci writes, “The very first thing any new union wants is exclusivity,” whereby “no other unions are allowed to negotiate on behalf of people in the bargaining unit. Unit members cannot hire their own agent, nor can they represent themselves.” Teachers should be free to negotiate for themselves, without a union. The idea of a “members only” union is fair to both sides, but monopoly-minded union leaders adamantly oppose it.

The Buckeye Institute has filed two lawsuits that aim to repeal exclusivity laws. One plaintiff, Marietta, Ohio high school Spanish teacher Jade Thompson, disagrees with her union on many questions, including seniority practices and maintaining fringe benefits at the cost of cutting academic programs. Another, Kathy Uradnik, professor of political science at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, wants out because her union bars nonmembers from serving on various faculty committees and joining the faculty senate. These public-sector teachers, and many others like them, are tired of the restrictions that unions—to which they don’t even belong—place on their work.

Another crucial step in the battles ahead: forcing unions to recertify themselves regularly. If your grandmother hired a law firm to help her get through some legal troubles, would you be forced to hire that same law firm 40 years later? Of course not. But as things stand now, grandma could have voted a union into power in the 1970s and—if you followed her into teaching—you would be represented by the same union today, with no choice in the matter. Only 6 percent of workers represented by a union today voted for that union to represent them.

The standard bearer for union recertification is Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, whose Act 10, among other things, specifies that unions take annual votes to maintain certification. The law was passed in 2011; by 2015, Wisconsin teachers had decertified more than 100 public school unions. “Inherited” unionism has to go: intergenerational power has no place in America.

Recertification laws don’t always go far enough, though. Under Florida’s HB 7055, 51 percent of the teachers in a school district can drag the dissenting 49 percent into collective bargaining negotiations. Again, those who don’t want to join a union should not be forced to be part of the bargaining unit.

In fact, the elimination of collective bargaining agreements (CBA) in public education may be beneficial for all concerned. The American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess and the Brookings Institute’s Martin West point out that CBAs are vestiges of the industrial economic model that prevailed in the 1950s, and are especially problematic on three fronts: “1) they restrict efforts to use compensation as a tool to recruit, reward and retain the most essential and effective teachers, 2) they impede attempts to assign or remove teachers on the basis of fit or performance, and 3) they over-regulate school life with work rules that stifle creative problem-solving without demonstrably improving teachers’ ability to serve students.” Since the passage of Act 10, which all but did away with collective bargaining for teachers in Wisconsin, graduation rates and the number of students taking advanced placement tests in that state have trended upward.

The Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli claims that CBAs hurt the bottom line of all teachers. Comparing salaries in districts across the country that allow collective bargaining with those that don’t, he found that teachers working in districts where the union was not involved made more money than those in collective bargaining districts—$64,500, on average, versus $57,500. Good teachers especially suffer under CBAs due to wage compression, which occurs when the salaries of lower-paid teachers get raised above the market rate; the increase is offset by reducing pay of the most productive ones.

The Supreme Court struck a blow for liberty in the Janus case, but other fixes are needed before the system is fair for all teachers, students, and taxpayers.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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