Conrolling Teacher Militancy Will Recent Empowerment Efforts Have Any Impact? By: Dr. Randy Dunn, Ph.D.

Tremendous emphasis has been given to teacher empowerment in the educational reform movement. A general assumption within this trend is that teacher empowerment will reduce teacher militancy. But is this so? While the conventional wisdom suggests that greater teacher autonomy, authority, and participation in decision-making should lessen militancy across all issues, such may not be the case. Following the introduction, I will seek to explore this paradox. First I will briefly review research identifying the determinants of teacher militancy. Then I'll analyze approaches to empowerment currently seen in schools in relationship to what the research has said regarding the causes of teacher militancy. Finally, I will offer some conclusions about the potential for continued militant behavior among teachers within an empowered environment, and will recommend further research in this area. 

* Dr. Dunn is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

Dr. Dunn thanks Brenda Armstrong for her research assistance on this paper. 


In a classic work, Hirschman* posited that organizational actors [e.g., administrators, teachers] rely upon two alternative approaches, exit and voice, when they encounter working conditions which they object to. The concept of "exit" in the organizational literature has usually referred to job turnover (Mayes & Ganster, 1988); and the concept of "voice" (first applied by Bacharach and Bamberger, 1990), refers to the formation of contentious attitudes or the taking of political action (e.g., strike) to improve organizational conditions.

The growth of public sector unionism and the attendant militant actions by these unions over the past four decades have been grist for the mill for researchers. Their studies have been notable for providing numerous models of militancy and profiles of militant employees. Within the field of educational labor relations in particular, potential determinants of teacher militancy have been suggested by scholars since the 1970s (Alutto & Belasco, 1974; Corwin, 1970; Fox & Wince, 1976; Tomkiewicz, 1979).

Though some may assume that teachers become militant solely because of economic concerns, as these educational employees press for higher wages and more extensive benefits, yet it has been shown that such is not always the case (Bacharach, Bamberger & Conley, 1990; Jessup, 1978, 1985). In the present labor relations environment, teachers' concerns for their professional rights and responsibilities in the workplace are on a par with the importance attached to the economic battles of the past. Though McDonnell and Pascal (1988) concede that the attainment of key provisions regulating salary and basic working conditions is necessary to secure contract provisions increasing professionalism, one cannot escape a "distinctive pressure" (Shedd, 1988, p.405) relating to the significance of professional issues in the teacher unionism literature. 

* The Reference list at the end of this article contains the full citation for each study referred to in the text. 

Interestingly, and probably not coincidentally, at the same time such concerns were gaining ground within teacher unions, a second wave of the education reform movement began calling for major changes in the organization of the teaching profession. Indeed, a separate and distinct sub-literature within the larger inquiry into teacher professionalism started to emerge which specifically identified the "empowerment" of the classroom teacher as a key component of educational reform (Maeroff, 1988; Mertens & Yarger, 1988; Sickler, 1988).

This empowerment sub-literature generally indicated that teachers were just as concerned about working conditions that affect their ability to perform their jobs as they are about higher salaries. A definition of teacher empowerment grew from this early literature which implies that teaching conditions must be established which allow greater teacher autonomy, authority, decision-making and control. In the typical world of the teacher, then, these changes would seemingly demand new structures to overcome a lack of input into decision-making on matters such as:

  • teaching and learning,
  • restrictive bureaucratic controls, and
  • incomplete administrative supports for teaching.

In one sense, it is not incorrect to view the arguments in support of teacher empowerment as actually bringing the earliest interpretations of teacher militancy full circle. Corwin (1970), whose book on the "professional militancy" of teachers predated essentially all writing on teacher empowerment by nearly a generation, detailed the modern history of educational administration as an outmoded, hierarchical, bureaucratic system. Corwin argued that as the education bureaucracy controls and standardizes the work setting it constrains the authority of employees over the policies that govern their work. Hence, teacher empowerment can be construed as a militant process, that is, as competing ideas of organization clash in school systems across the nation.

I. Determinants of Teacher Militancy

The literature on teacher militancy to date implies two broad categories of militancy determinants:

  • characteristics of the individual, and
  • characteristics of the workplace (Bacharach et al., 1990).

Characteristics of the individual that have been shown to contribute to increased militancy include the following variables:

  • age (Alutto & Belasco, 1974),
  • gender (Lane & Thompson, 1981),
  • race (Williams & Leonard, 1989),
  • self-image (Smith, Ball & Liontos, 1990), and
  • attitudes toward the union (McClendon & Klass, 1993).

However, while these demographic and attitudinal characteristics have a clear impact in contributing to teacher militancy, most empowerment strategies instead serve to alter the characteristics of the workplace in some way. Thus, in this section of the article I will focus on three dimensions of the workplace that impact teacher militancy:

A. Organizational Decision-making

B. Fair Treatment

C. Job Feedback

A. Organizational Decision-Making

One of the crucial factors in looking at the characteristics of organizational work for teachers is that they view themselves as professionals. As a result, teachers expect to maintain a high level of work autonomy and to be significantly involved in decision making thereby providing overall control gains. By incorporating teachers into decision-making, the administrator places value on their professional judgment and rewards their expertise. In a bureaucracy, the tendency exists for organizational leaders to specify and formalize rules that could result in too great a control over teachers' activities. The feeling that teachers lack authority over decisions, or have less influence over decisions than they should have, may result in a sense of powerlessness and dissatisfaction that leads to militant actions (Conley, Bacharach & Bauer, 1989). On the other hand, Steers and Black (1995) assert that involvement in decision-making enlarges the degree of control that employees perceive over their own behavior in the workplace.

B. Fair Treatment

The notion of fair treatment as a workplace dimension has received attention as teachers have become more sensitive to being treated fairly in regard to such issues as promotion opportunities, job enrichment opportunities, and job transfers. Johnson (1984) discovered that teachers both resented favoritism and admired evenhandedness with respect to employee treatment by principals. Johnson further reported that teachers' judgments to join forces with union members, oppose administrative decisions, and resolve problems through formal grievance channels (all militant actions) were highly dependent upon their perception of fair treatment by the principal.

Bacharach, Mitchell and Malanowski (1983) found limited support for the hypothesis that low certainty about promotion opportunity and low rationality of the promotion process will lead to high militancy. However, high rationality of the promotion process emerged as significant in the expected direction in all cases. Since a high certainty of promotion opportunity failed to emerge as a significant variable in their model (and maybe this should not be surprising given the limited career advancement opportunities available to teachers), fairness of the promotion process appears more important than the certainty of the opportunity for promotion in reducing teacher militancy.

C. Job Feedback

Lastly, research suggests that individuals who receive more job feedback have a less stressful and more positive relationship with the organization. A teacher is less likely to express militant attitudes when there is greater feedback and less stress in the instructional situation (Bacharach et al., 1983).

Because individual characteristics such as age, gender, and race cannot be modified, and the individual implications of self-image and attitude toward the union seem especially resistant to change, systemic influences to reduce teacher militancy will continue to focus upon altering characteristics of the school as a workplace. It is necessary in the upcoming section to examine how contemporary practices for heightening empowerment within schools are being utilized to transform the nature of teachers' work. This review, however, will be approached from a critical perspective as the various approaches to empowerment are analyzed according to the degree to which they refashion workplace characteristics to reduce teacher militancy.

II. A Critical Review of Empowerment

Empowerment has become the latest rallying cry in a variety of organizational settings and, as such, there seems to be no dearth of practices which purport to lead to enhanced levels of teacher empowerment (as commonly defined). For instance, the practitioner literature in educational administration cites numerous examples of practices that principals and superintendents are exhorted to follow to increase empowerment:

  • school improvement teams and
  • school governance councils; lead teachers;
  • peer observation, coaching and evaluation;
  • professional staff development and support programs; and
  • faculty review teams.

Short (1992), in her attempt to advance the discussion of teacher empowerment beyond the stage of a laundry list of strategies, identified six empirically derived dimensions underlying the construct of teacher empowerment; and they are:

  1. participation of teachers in critical decisions that directly affect their work; 
  2. teacher impact as an indicator of influencing school life; 
  3. teacher status concerning professional respect from colleagues; 
  4. autonomy, or teachers' beliefs that they can control certain aspects of their work life; 
  5. professional development opportunities to enhance continuous learning and expand one's skills; and 
  6. self-efficacy?perception of having the skills and ability to help students learn. 

Unfortunately, what has not been easily found are conceptual frameworks or compelling theoretical positions for thinking about teacher empowerment. Lawler (1986) forwarded the idea that teacher

empowerment relates to greater organizational effectiveness as teachers recognize they have the prerogative to help make changes that can correct perceived organizational problems.

Prawat's (1991) framework for examining teacher empowerment considered first the personal context within which the empowerment process occurs (described as conversations with self) before contemplating an external perspective for thinking about empowerment (or conversations with others). This first approach to empowerment is essentially an epistemological one as individual teachers develop the knowledge of how to deal with (what Prawat referred to as) social and political oppression. How? By overcoming "the inclination to uncritically accept (or reject) knowledge claims advanced by so-called experts in the field" (p. 739). The key to empowerment under the second perspective, though, appears to demand more of an organizational or strategic response as teachers must "be open to new and more effective ways of constructing the classroom and workplace environment" (p. 739).

Gamoran, Fowler, Levin and Walberg (1994) reflected on the prior research and their own experience to present three theoretical views of empowerment that differ significantly in their assumptions about the school and classroom domains and the impact of changes in these domains upon teacher empowerment. Their "teacher professionalism" view sees increasing teacher autonomy as leading to improved instruction and academic achievement. The "bureaucratic centralization" view holds that a strong, centralized structure will foster empowerment as teachers reach collective decisions regarding effective curricular content and organization, which must then be applied by a teaching professional in a variety of classroom contexts. Finally, the "loose coupling" view asserts that since teachers already have a high degree of control over and autonomy within their own classrooms, increased empowerment (at the classroom level at least) is irrelevant to teaching and learning. But Gamoran et al. readily acknowledge that a review of the research proffers little evidence to support or disprove any of the three views they posit.

This short review of some of the different ways of looking at teacher empowerment would seem to suggest that access to, and involvement in decision-making is central to any notion of empowerment reform. It is almost intuitive to imply that teachers, if given the opportunity to participate in the overall educational decision-making process, will be more effective and productive, as well as more favorably predisposed toward change efforts. Further, conventional wisdom holds that teachers who perceive a greater feeling of empowerment should be less militant; that is, as they concomitantly sense their professional rights being upheld, and the ability and support to master their responsibilities within the workplace. But for a variety of reasons (that are explained below), I am hesitant to believe that such will necessarily be the case.

A. Implications Related to Organizational Decision-Making

As they conceptualized their image of empowerment, Gamoran et al. (1994) distinguished between two domains of empowerment: classroom and school. Given their importance with respect to many issues of school coordination and control across the nation, one could reasonably assert a third, and possibly a fourth, domain that affect teacher empowerment; namely, the influence of district and state governance structures. Obviously, teachers' influence over decision-making is lessened as these domains conflict with one another.

In schools where empowerment strategies are liberally employed, teachers may have a strong impact on school decisions. Yet, these may not be well aligned with district or state mandates. For example, if a district-level policy requires a textbook for every course of study or curricular area and teacher evaluation is tied to text coverage, but an individual school desires to move away from the textbook-driven curriculum, teachers' wishes will likely take a back seat to district mandates, that is, unless a viable waiver provision exists.

(What these policy makers assume about teachers' lack of competency and firm grounding in matters of curricular content and pacing is not unique, but such discussion is not the focus of this article.)

Even when teachers have outright control over school issues, each school must make a determination of the degree to which collective decisions will be allowed to influence classroom practices. It is not beyond the pale to think that if a centralized, authoritarian decision-making structure is merely replaced by a professional one that is unclear, diffuse and obscure, that the same sense of confusion, powerlessness and dissatisfaction which has been shown to lead to teacher militancy would again prevail.

When teachers, through the vehicle of professional empowerment, are provided the opportunity for increased autonomy and greater involvement in (and control over) a school's mission, objectives and direction, the potential exists for similarly magnified levels of conflict within the organization. If meaningful organizational change is to occur, communication will likely become more complex, which can result in increased conflicts.

At least one study conducted in schools undergoing restructuring efforts to create greater teacher empowerment discovered that when teachers' involvement in decision-making increases, the opportunities for conflict increase due to the disclosure of various ideologies and perceptions (Short, Greer & Michael, 1991). Especially if teachers lack particular skills necessary to address organizational problems or group processes, the teachers may view additional levels of conflict as thwarting their organizational decision-making power, thus leading to more militant behavior. The fact that Short et al. also discovered that empowerment was negatively correlated to school climate (so that as empowerment increased, teachers perceived a less positive climate in their schools) would tend to corroborate this view.

Zeichner (1991) pointed out the problems that ensue when teacher empowerment becomes so strong as to strain the connections between schools and their communities. As teachers gain control of a school's decision-making process, parents and communities might well distance themselves from school affairs as their concerns take a back seat to those of the education professionals. In examining this tension between schools and parents/communities, Zeichner felt that "plans that have given more power to local schools and to teachers within those schools have not necessarily created the means for authentic partnerships between communities and schools" (p. 367).

To illustrate, governance of each of the Chicago Public Schools (under the Chicago School Reform Act) is now mandated by a local school council comprised of parents, community members and teachers. But recent reports from Chicago indicate only mixed success in altering influence relationships between parents and teachers. In some schools, teachers and the principal (whose appointment is determined by each council) can regulate the council through skillful agenda setting, selective information sharing, issues management, and other control mechanisms, these same teachers essentially control key decision-making outcomes as well. Indeed, the seeds of teacher militancy are sown as parents are circumvented from addressing salient policy issues and, as Zeichner sees it, are forced to "approach their involvement in these policy-making bodies as a way to acquire information about the school and provide service to the school, not to make school policy" (p. 368).

Previous research has solidly and credibly demonstrated the role of positive school-community relationships in contributing to student academic achievement, not just for those students typically seen as being at-risk, but for most students in urban settings. Yet as parents and other community members become disengaged from the schools, believing their bona fide interests are not being legitimated, opportunities for the growth of teacher militancy are nurtured. Moreover, as parents act upon their frustration against the professional authority of the school, certain things will presumably happen. Parents will,

  • quit working as volunteer teacher aides;
  • stop coordinating school events;
  • cease supporting teachers' efforts by checking homework, buying additional supplies, and the like; and
  • no longer serve as sympathetic members on boards of education and local school councils.

In their attempt to both counter this treatment as well as recoup some very tangible benefits which accrue from high levels of parental involvement, the temptation will exist for teachers to turn to militant behavior to retrieve these lost resources through normal organizational channels.

B. Implications for Fair Treatment

If it is assumed that autonomy, control, and access to decision-making are central to the existence of teacher empowerment, it must also be remembered that this broad authority granted to school staff to run their schools, if it has ever existed, is frequently compromised. Societal problems dealing with such issues as racial segregation, the provision of services to disabled children, and gender discrimination cannot be addressed on a school-by-school basis in any equitable fashion. Beyond the reach of federal and state mandates in these areas, certain other decisions are necessarily made at the district level, and not by individual schools. Walker and Roder (1993) illustrated just such a circumstance:

For instance, students in a school with a sizable number of African-American students could claim that aggressive enforcement of a disciplinary policy in their school was discriminatory or constituted a denial of 'equal protection" under federal or state constitutions because another school within the same school district with a largely white student population has a more relaxed disciplinary policy.

Indeed, the Office of Civil Rights of the United States Department of Education has taken the position generally that all students should receive the same discipline for the same offense. District-wide FF0 monitoring could ameliorate this problem (p. 169).

When teachers' participation in and control over decision-making is compromised by an array of legal constraints, they may correspondingly sense they are being treated less fairly. If so, militancy will increase.

While on the topic of fair treatment, it is worth mentioning that current research evidence suggests even the most vigorous empowerment strategies cannot overcome organizational antecedents which limit teachers' willingness to participate in school decision-making. Smylie (1992) found that across all decision-making areas, the principal-teacher relationship is the single strongest influence on teachers' willingness to participate in decision-making; this was especially the case in the area of personnel decision-making. To the extent that the causes of militancy within a particular school are r6oted in the principal-teacher relationship, militant behavior will likely continue to flourish. In addition, Smylie also said that "promoting teacher participation in decision-making is a problem of individual and organizational change that cannot be solved effectively through legislation or regulation alone" (p.50).

C. Implications Related to Job Feedback

A review of prior research on teacher empowerment does not necessarily reveal a channel through which empowerment designs might contribute to teacher militancy along the workplace dimension of job feedback. Instead, in this arena, the relationship may actually run in the opposite direction, so that as teachers' perceptions of empowerment decrease, teacher militancy increases.

Short and Rinehart (1992) indicated that teachers who perceive a greater sense of empowerment believe they may significantly impact the work of the organization. It is reasonable to expect that teachers who have "the power to identify problems, facilitate change, and ultimately be responsible for organizational outcomes" (p. 11) must have access to feedback information from multiple sources to gauge the relative success of their efforts. If empowerment is thus correlated with some degree, of organizational efficacy (which is dependent upon receiving job and organizational feedback), not only will teachers' sense of empowerment decrease, but teacher militancy will increase in the absence of feedback.

III. Significance for Policy, Pracitce and Research

Clear implications for policy, practice and future research are somewhat difficult to glean from this work. While it seems intuitive to believe that increased empowerment leads teachers to take on a more professional orientation, thereby leading to less militant behavior, it has been argued here that this may not be so. In fact, some research is now emerging that appears to bear this out.

DiPaola and Hoy (1994) asserted that militancy develops as a natural outgrowth of a professional, as opposed to a bureaucratic, orientation in the school workplace. Indeed, they cite the demand of teachers for "independence, self-determination, and colleagueship" (p. 83) as being at the heart of the professional-bureaucratic conflict. Yet, DiPaola and Hoy made clear that the conflict associated with teacher militancy does not disrupt harmony in the schools. As such, perhaps militancy is better viewed in a somewhat less negative light and more as a resistance to a "blind faith in bureaucracy" (p. 88).

But for those who would ignore these arguments and still desire to respond to an expansion of teacher militancy through some sort of empowerment policy intervention, reform proposals that simply enhance the decision-making power and organizational status of teachers in the name of empowerment are probably not sufficient. To illustrate, most teaching and learning reforms demand new resources in the form of staff development, personnel, and materials for support. Teachers who are "empowered," yet who do not discern an environment of trust and confidence within their schools (demonstrated by the provision of additional needed resources), will continue to take individual and collective action to address difficult professional problems they face every day. This action may take forms that are commonly viewed as militant (e.g., work actions, informational pickets), but need not be seen as anti-professional.

Certainly, all of this is not to then say that school administrators should revert to bureaucratic authority structures to control teachers so that militancy is kept to a minimum. Rather, administrators should carefully analyze the impact and implications of their organizational and administrative strategies. They should not promote educational reforms designed only to stall the advance of militancy; instead, they should diligently seek to recognize problems inherent in the present school organization, and then promote reforms that will correct those problems.

Teachers have fundamental concerns that if left unresolved bring a collective, almost automatic response, known as "first-level" militancy. Teachers' concerns include:

  • class size,
  • teaching assignment,
  • teacher evaluation, and
  • length of school day and year.

These concerns, when categorized as follows, are typical of the traditional concerns that blue collar and other professional employee unions seek to resolve:

  • compensation,
  • job security, and
  • workplace organizational conditions.

When fundamental concerns of teachers remain unresolved, teachers almost always look to the counter power of the union to resolve these problems in the school organization. "First-level" militancy pertains to the above concerns and occurs when the union gets involved.

"Second-level" militancy displays more concern for the following issues within the school:

  • professional decision-making,
  • autonomy, and
  • control.

However, most unions have not yet developed a system for resolving such issues (Kipnis & Schmidt, 1983). Only what Kerchner and Mitchell (1988) call third-generation, "professional" teacher unions are likely to exhibit this second-level militancy, and those do not yet exist (Urban, 1991). Even if they did exist, such professional unions may not be able to lessen first-level teacher militancy or reduce conflict between the union and management.

Streshly and DeMitchell (1994) properly emphasized that the "first business of a union is to secure the material benefits of the members' employment" (p. 66), while Bascia (1994) asserted that teachers fully expect their unions to be receptive to the issues as the teachers interpret them. Evidence that this attitude is shared within professional unionism as well can be seen in Kerchner's (1993) case study of the Pittsburgh teacher union. Though the union made professionalism a significant part of its agenda, and major reforms were accomplished in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, the union continued to do what unions do, namely, increase the number of grievances:

Grievances are filed, and the union represents teachers who receive unsatisfactory performance ratings. The number of grievances going to arbitration has actually increased because the union is some what more willing to take 'judgment call" grievances to arbitration to show that it is still fulfilling its duty to provide procedural due process for members (p. 58).

It must be acknowledged that distinctions between examples of first- and second-level militancy are sometimes difficult to define and may be artificial at best. However, such a notion can be implied from McDonnell and Pascal's (1988) developmental conceptualization of teacher unions that (a) initially bargain to obtain increases in salary and fringe benefits, and (b) later confront the administration on matters of working conditions and job security, and (c) finally address issues of educational policy and professional practice.

While certain characteristics of the individual associated with militancy (e.g., age, gender and race) cannot be altered, the organization by tactical behavior can influence the degree to which teachers resort to first-level militancy. For instance, educational reform is generally associated with increased work demands for teachers. Bacharach et al. (1983) demonstrated that teachers are likely to turn to militant behavior when confronted with high levels of work demands. Thus it is appropriate for administrators to respond to teachers' perceptions relating to the level of work demands. Administrators may need to reallocate clerical or technical support to buttress teachers' reform efforts, or pay them a small stipend via a mini-grant program. Furthermore, administrators can give symbolic rewards to heighten the intrinsic satisfaction and identification that teachers receive from high job involvement, thereby reducing militancy (Bacharach et al., 1983).

Future research should include exploratory investigation into the nature and degree of second-level militancy, especially in those schools that provide comprehensive, systemic opportunities for teachers' full participation in decision-making and policy development (related to teaching and learning). Largely unexplored is the question of whether militant attitudes are influenced more by school-level or district-level actions and practices. Also highly valuable would be longitudinal case studies which expand our understanding of the various facets of first- and second-level militant behavior, while forwarding models of teacher empowerment in diverse school and district organizational contexts.


Given their crucial role in the teaching and learning process, teachers will continue to be key players in determining the success and effectiveness of schools. For educational reform and change to thrive, meaningful teacher participation and involvement is essential. The challenge for schools will be to create conditions that encourage teachers to help develop and implement reforms that improve teaching and learning, while at the same time avoid fostering an over-reliance on strident unionism that encourages negative first-level teacher militancy.

If teachers view educational reforms (with their rigorous prescriptiveness, increased time demands and workloads, and heightened accountability) as disruptive of or contradictory to traditional union interests (e.g., salary and basic working conditions), then first-level teacher militancy will likely expand with each new reform initiative. In addition, I have posited the existence of a different, second-level militancy centering upon issues of professional empowerment. However, this new-fashioned brand of militancy (assuming it exists at all) will emerge to the extent that teacher unions (fomenting militancy in order to develop and maintain the loyalty of their dues paying members) seek to re-establish their legitimacy by addressing problems of empowerment, not just economic growth and job protection. In the end, those of us engaged in the study of educational labor relations can only hope that this new version of teacher militancy is better than the old one. 


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Teacher Unions, Educational Quality, and a Free Market Remedy Baird, Charles W.

Dr. Baird looks at the process of educational decline and proposes a free market system with tax vouchers for parents who choose to enroll their children in private schools as the best means of remedying the situation. It is the author's opinion that the lion's share of the responsibility for the deteriorating quality must rest with the teacher unions, which he further perceives as being the major impediments to reform, particularly the National Education Association (NEA).  

A Symposium: The Impact of Teacher Unions on Education Applegate, et al.

Education reform is unlikely, if not impossible, because of collective bargaining, participants at a symposium, "The Impact of Teacher Unions on Education," were told in Washington. The two day symposium was conducted January 12-13, 1984, by the Public Service Research Foundation (PSRF) and attracted 50 school superintendents, school negotiators, faculty union representatives, education faculty members, Congressional staff members and officials from the U.S. Department of Education. This edition of theReview takes a look at when collective bargaining first came to education, the impact of collective bargaining, and finishes with an evaluation of the impact.

The Impact of Mandatory Collective Bargaining Laws on a School Boards' Ability to Govern

Based on a survey of Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin school board members to determine whether their perceived ability to perform legislatively prescribed duties is impacted by the type of collective bargaining legislation enacted within their state.
According to the results of the study, state laws governing collective bargaining significantly influence the perceived ability of school board members to carry out legislatively prescribed duties. Board members from states with mandatory bargaining felt a greater impact on their ability to govern than individuals representing boards from a non-mandatory state.

The Case Against Collective Bargaining in Public Education

Discusses the reason for Kentucky School Boards Association's opposition to collective bargaining legislation for teachers. Dr. Scott maintains that the KSBA has consistently opposed bargaining for school employees because: the public is opposed to it, it is expensive, it diminishes local control of education, and, in the final analysis, it is detrimental to the educaitonal process. 

Collective Bargaining and the Freedom to Learn

Russell Kirk presents a further aspect of academic freedom to school personnel administrators, namely that of the freedom to learn. Although the speech was made prior to the November elections, we feel it still has a worthwhile message regarding teacher union political activity.

In an article that was originally published in Canadian Public Policy, Sandra Christensen tackles the subject of Canadian federal sector pay comparability and argues for a retrenchment in the current system in favor of independent pay boards which would apply certain criteria in setting pay scales.

The Costs of Collective Bargaining in the Modesto School Districts: A Case Study

According to the labor relations industry, the standard measurement for the success of any labor relations framework is the degree of resulting "labor relations harmony" and "labor peace." In public employment, however, another consideration is gaining equal, if not greater importance in the face of growing tax revolts and budget constraints on public officials. The cost aspect of the collective bargaining process is in dire need of accurate and reliable assessment techniques if forecast and fiscal planning are to be of any practical value. Local government fiscal insolvency, after all, has occurred often enough to deserve serious attention to its various causes and methods of avoidance. The Costs of Collective Bargaining in the Modesto City School Districts: A Case Study, is limited to the costs of the bargaining process itself and does not include results of bargaining, such as salary increases and fringe benefits.

Special Report from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association: A 10-year Review of Pennsylvania's Public Employee Relations Act

Presents a thorough and thought-provoking analysis of Pennsylvania's experience with teacher bargaining under that state's public sector bargaining law, Act 195. The report was first published in PSBA Bulletin by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, and scrutinizes some pertinent provisions of the bargaining law, such as limited right to strike for public employees, their effects, implementation and costs. We reprinted this report to give readers outside the state of Pennsylvania the opportunity to compare that system with other states' and to provide information on one state's bargaining related experience that might prove to be of value in grasping some of the problems involved. One area of research in the field of public sector bargaining which has been seriously neglected and is in need of extensive and conclusive research is the cost aspect of bargaining and the development of a clear and useful method for computing such costs. This is the approach J. Curtis Rose has taken in his report on Pennsylvania's 10-year comprehensive cost of public sector bargaining.

LET TEACHERS' UNIONS PAY FOR UNION BUSINESS by John Gore Independence Institute*

Executive Summary

Why should taxpayers pay for union officers to take time off and attend union functions? Collective bargaining agreements between school districts and teachers throughout the state provide for leave for the president of the teachers’ union and other union officers to conduct union business and attend union-sponsored activities, conferences, and workshops. These forms of leave are largely underwritten by local school districts, creating huge taxpayer subsidies to local teachers’ unions. Furthermore, these provisions remove experienced educators from the classroom and replace them with less-experienced counterparts in the form of replacements and substitutes, compromising the quality of education received by students. Because school boards are so closely linked to teachers’ unions, any attempt to bring these subsidies to an end should be undertaken legislatively. Such legislation would stipulate the following conditions:

Public school districts shall no longer, directly or indirectly:

• Provide release time with pay for any period of time for service as a union representative in any national, state, or local teachers union, education association, or other professional association, or for service with or on behalf of any such labor organization.

• Release employees from regularly contracted duties to serve in, with, or on behalf of any labor organization for more than one school year; and during any such school year the labor organization shall be responsible for the full cost of the salary and benefits of such employees.

Public educators will no longer:

• Receive release time with pay, with the exception of personal leave days, for any period of time to attend union meetings.

Leave for Union Officials

Of the 20 largest school districts in Colorado, 17 operate under collective bargaining agreements with the local teachers’ union. Nearly every one of these agreements grants a full-time, yearlong leave of absence to the president of the local teachers’ union from regular teaching duties to fulfill his or her term as union president. Two of these collective bargaining agreements even provide for additional partial leave for other union officers. Often at the expense of the school district, the union president and other officers lose no salary, seniority rights, or fringe benefits (which can be as high as 20% of a teacher’s salary) during such leave, and the district is required reinstate the union president at the end of his or her tenure to a comparable position in the same school he or she taught in prior to serving as union president. Additionally, most of these collective bargaining agreements mandate a certain amount of leave to the union representatives to attend union-sponsored seminars, meetings and functions. These “Association leave” days are granted with full pay, usually at the district’s expense, and the district routinely bears the additional costs of hiring a substitute to monitor classrooms abandoned by union representatives using these leave days.

This study was conducted with a very simple purpose: to provide information to the taxpayers of the State of Colorado regarding the use of their tax money. It is also intended as a call for accountability to local school boards implicated by these findings. This study is about teachers’ unions, not teachers; its aim is to disclose the actions of the teachers’ unions as an organization, not to demean or degrade any hard-working, competent educational professional.1


The formula for totaling the amount of taxpayer subsidies to local teachers’ unions aggregates the separate costs of the two major factors, tax dollars subsidizing the union president’s leave and tax dollars subsidizing teacher leave for union activities. These two costs are analyzed individually and added together to compute the total amount of the taxpayer subsidy to the local teachers’ union.

A) Tax Dollars Subsidizing Union President’s Leave. The local school district generally absorbs the cost of the union president’s salary and benefits partially or fully during his or her tenure. To calculate the net subsidy flowing from the taxpayer to the union, the amount paid by the union (whether to the union president’s salary and benefits directly, to the cost of a replacement teacher, or to a combination of both) is subtracted from the amount paid by the school district in the salary and benefits of the union president. For example, if the union president earns a total of $50,000 in salary and benefits paid by the district, and if the union remits $30,000 to the district to compensate a replacement teacher for the union president, the net taxpayer subsidy to the union equals $20,000.

B) Tax Dollars Subsidizing Teacher Leave for Union Activities. The amount of taxpayer subsidy transferred to the union coffers for one teacher on one day of union leave is equal to that teacher’s per diem pay minus any amount contributed by the union to defray the costs incurred by providing these days, usually in the form of substitute pay. For example, if the union is granted 100 union leave days at the teacher per diem of $200, and the union reimburses the district at the substitute daily rate of $100, then:

100 {number of union leave days} X $200 {average teacher per diem}
– 100 {number of union leave days} X $100 {substitute daily rate}
= Net subsidy to the union

In this example, the net subsidy to the union through union leave equals $10,000.

Combining the two forms of subsidies in this example, the net taxpayer subsidy from the school district to the teachers’ union is $30,000.

C) Potential Number of Computers and Textbooks Per Year. These columns explore the buying power of these union subsidies in terms of vital educational resources. To calculate the potential number of computers purchased, an average new computer cost of $1,000 was divided into the total tax dollar subsidy to the teachers’ union. For textbooks a similar process was followed using an average high school textbook cost of $50. It should be remembered that these figures represent potential resources every year, not over a cumulative period.

D) The Numbers. Each of the collective bargaining agreements examined below has been carefully scrutinized to insure the greatest degree of accuracy in this analysis. In calculating the net subsidies through the union president’s salary, educated, informed estimates were combined with the specific wording of the collective bargaining agreements wherever possible. The average teacher per diem rates used in the calculations of union leave reflect district-wide averages for the 1999-2000 school year and were obtained from the Colorado Department of Education. Because the figures used are averages, they most likely underestimate the actual amount of the subsidies because ranking union officials (those who are elected to leadership positions within the union or who use union leave days) tend to be more experienced educators earning higher salaries than their counterparts.

Interpretation of Data

Union President’s Leave

While many nuances exist in the individual collective bargaining agreements, most of the collective bargaining agreements have similar provisions for financing leave for the union president. Each school district can be grouped in one of three categories according to the amount of the union’s contribution to the cost of the union president’s leave, whether the union bears the cost of hiring a replacement teacher, paying most of the union president’s salary and benefits during his or her tenure, or paying the union president’s salary and benefits entirely.


   • School Districts Where Unions Provide for the Cost of a Replacement Teacher. In half of the twenty largest school districts in Colorado, particularly Denver Public Schools, Adams-Arapahoe 28J, Adams County 12, Boulder Valley, Poudre Valley, Mesa Valley No. 51, St. Vrain, Littleton, Weld County 6, and Thompson, the union pays the salary (and sometimes the benefits), usually at a prearranged level on the salary schedule, of a teacher hired to replace the union president on leave. The union president continues to receive compensation as if an employee of the district. Generally the union president is an experienced, tenured teacher and the replacement an inexperienced, less-skilled educator. This difference in experience level translates to a large difference in compensation. Consequently, this arrangement creates the highest taxpayer subsidy flowing into the union, and these districts face the problem of compromised teacher quality when an experienced educator is on leave and an inexperienced one in the classroom.

School Districts Where Unions Pay Most of the Union President’s Salary and Benefits. The collective bargaining agreements in Cherry Creek No. 5, and Colorado Springs District 11 provide leave to the union president at only partial expense to the district; most of the cost of the union president’s leave is absorbed by the union. Structuring the union president’s leave in this way reduces the amount of the subsidy compared to those districts paying the union president’s salary in full; however, these districts also bear the cost of hiring a replacement teacher without compensation from the union. These districts still have the problem of compromised teacher quality in those classrooms monitored by replacements.

School Districts Where Unions Pay the Union President’s Salary and Benefits Entirely. The final category pertains to those school districts providing no pay to union presidents while on leave: Jefferson County, Douglas County, Pueblo 60, Westminster 50, and Pueblo 70. The only benefits guaranteed by the district to the union president are those relating to retirement and seniority. The union president retains accrued benefits without placing extra costs on the district in his or her absence. Taxpayer subsidies to the union through this provision are eliminated entirely without harming the union president’s career as an educator.

Notably, both the Adams School District 12 and Boulder Valley School District RE-J1 collective bargaining agreements provide half-time leave to an additional union officer each year. The Adams School District 12 collective bargaining agreement reads: “The Board shall grant half release time with pay and benefits to the coordinator of the Association.”2 Similarly, the Boulder Valley School District “agrees…that the…vice president of the Association should be relieved of {his or her} duties without loss of salary, seniority, or fringe benefits.”3 Why the union vice president or “association coordinator” should receive leave time to discharge his or her duties is unclear, especially considering that this provision can only be found in these two agreements. Allowing additional leave to be granted to these union officers not only greatly increases the amount of the taxpayer subsidy to the Boulder Valley Education Association and the Adams 12 Educators’ Association respectively, but it further damages the overall quality of education by removing experienced teachers from the classroom and replacing them with less experienced counterparts.

Teacher Leave For Union Activities

As in the case of leave for the union president, each school district can be included in one of three groups based on the union contribution to the cost of providing leave to teachers for union activities, whether the union bears none of that cost, the cost of supplying substitutes on these leave days, or the cost of salary for teachers using these leave days.

School Districts Where Unions Bear None of the Cost of Teacher Leave For Union Activities. Half of the school districts examined, namely Jefferson County, Denver Public Schools, Adams County 12, Boulder Valley, Poudre Valley, Mesa Valley No 51, St. Vrain Valley, Weld County District 6, Thompson, and Pueblo 70 provide union leave days entirely at the expense of the district. Not only are these districts sacrificing teacher quality through the use of substitutes, they are also in effect paying two people to do one job. These districts suffer the adverse consequences of granting teacher leave for union activities at their greatest extent.

School Districts Where Unions Finance the Cost of Substitutes. Seven other school districts, Cherry Creek No. 5, Douglas County, Adams-Arapahoe 28J, Pueblo 60, Littleton, Westminster 50, and Widefield (which maintains no collective bargaining agreement between teachers and the school district) continue to pay the salary of teachers on union leave but require the union to bear the cost of supplying substitutes. These districts avoid paying two individuals to do the same job but still bankroll the cost of substitutes; additionally, the educational experience of students is compromised by the extra use of substitutes.

School Districts Where Unions Finance Any Union Leave Entirely. Two of the remaining school districts, Academy District 20 and Harrison District 2, have no collective bargaining agreements, and they rarely receive requests for union leave. Furthermore, the collective bargaining agreement in Colorado Springs School District 11 stipulates that union leave “days shall be paid by the Association if the teachers are doing work that is not of an educational nature.”4 Requiring unions to pay the salary of teachers on leave for union purposes eliminates the subsidy to teachers unions. Furthermore, this requirement may discourage union representatives from requesting unnecessary leave days, guaranteeing that the most experienced educators remain in the classroom.

The Largest Possible Subsidizer

Mesa County Valley School District No. 51 uses a unique process for distributing its professional leave days. Instead of processing requests for these leave days through the superintendent or some other administrator within the school district, as is common practice in other districts, requests for such leave are approved by the Teacher Professional Leave Panel (TPLP), a committee “consisting of five (5) teachers selected by the Association and one (1) administrator in an ex officio capacity.”5 The TPLP is granted full authority to develop the guidelines for distributing such leave. This means that the Mesa Valley school board has yielded great power to the Association in determining how these leave days may be used. The Association supplies five of the six members of the TPLP, which not only develops the guidelines for distributing such leave but also is the final authority for approving requests for professional leave. This is a major transfer of power from the school district to the local teachers’ union. What is to stop the TPLP from allowing these professional leave days to be used for union business?

Mesa County Valley School District No. 51 potentially funnels the largest subsidy of any of the school districts scrutinized, over $170,000, into the local teachers’ unions. Four hundred fifty (450) possible union leave days are available to the Mesa Valley Education Association.6 Mesa County District No. 51 has also agreed to “appropriate fifty-three thousand dollars ($53,000) each school year” to defray expenses incurred in the use of this leave,7 a concession found in none of the other agreements.

Policy Recommendation

Because school board members are often elected with union endorsement, school boards are incapable and unwilling to delete these provisions from collective bargaining agreements with the union. Any attempt at reform must therefore be undertaken legislatively.

Legislation intended to put an end to these subsidies should include the following stipulations:

Public school districts shall not, directly or indirectly:

• Provide release time with pay for any period of time for service as a union representative in any national, state, or local teachers’ union, education association, or other professional association, or for service with or on behalf of any such labor organization.

• Release employees from regularly contracted duties to serve in, with, or on behalf of any labor organization for more than one school year; and during any such school year the labor organization shall be responsible for the full cost of the salary and benefits of such employees.

Public educators will no longer:

• Receive release time with pay, with the exception of personal leave days, for any period of time to attend union meetings.

This policy would allow for leave to the union president provided the union paid the entire cost of his or her salary and benefits. Under this legislation, taxpayer subsidies to teachers’ unions through union president leave would be ended. Limiting the length of tenure for the union president to one year would keep the most experienced and qualified teachers in the classroom educating children to the greatest extent possible. The third clause of this proposed policy would not abolish union leave days; rather, such leave days would be taken at union expense or for activities directly improving the teaching skills of educators. Restricting union leave days in this way would not only influence the number of union leave days taken but would guarantee that any taxpayer money financing those leave days would be frugally spent on educational purposes.


Teachers’ unions wield a large amount of wealth and influence. It is estimated that the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers collect over $1.3 billion annually in the form of state, local, and national dues.8 In the 1990s, the NEA and AFT were respectively the fourth and fifth largest soft money donors to the Democratic Party, donating in excess of $4.6 million during that decade.9 Why should taxpayers subsidize union officers, who represent a wealthy and special interest? Shouldn’t unions bear the cost of paying officials to do the union’s work? Transferring revenues collected from the taxpayer into the pocket of union officials amounts to public welfare for organized labor.

While a simple analysis using conservative figures reveals an alarming sum extracted from the taxpayers of the state and poured into the local unions, the actual cost of these subsidies to the taxpayer is much higher. As previously examined, granting leave to the union president often requires the district to hire a replacement teacher; substitutes must also be enlisted to replace union representatives on union leave in the classroom. In most cases the districts bear the burden of recruiting, hiring, and paying these teachers (including these teachers’ benefits) alone. While these costs may not be considered direct subsidies from the taxpayer to the union, they are economic waste generated by union activity and financed by the local taxpayer. They constitute a portion of the large cost of doing business with the union.

Money collected by the government with the purpose of meeting a pressing societal need—educating the citizenry—is diverted from the needy classroom to fund the activities of a wealthy special interest. If these funds were expended on educational resources such as computers and textbooks instead of on leave for union officers, classrooms would be more adequately equipped to provide a conducive learning environment for students. Every dollar funneled into union activities through these subsidies represents a dollar robbed from the student.

Finally, countless studies have proven that “the effectiveness of the teacher is the major factor of student academic progress,” a factor so important that there is “little evidence that subsequent effective teachers can offset the effects of ineffective ones.”  It follows then that the most necessary element in effective public education is teacher quality. Removing an experienced, effective educator from the classroom to serve as union president and replacing him/her with an inexperienced replacement undermines the goal of public education to provide the best educational experience possible to students. Additionally, the unnecessary use of substitutes on union leave days further hampers the learning process as teacher quality in the classroom is compromised.

This study has been narrow in its scope, examining only the arrangements relating to the union president’s leave and other forms of official union leave. Several other mechanisms within collective bargaining agreements generate funding for unions at taxpayer expense. Undoubtedly the current policies of leave for union presidents and other union officials, codified in the collective bargaining agreements of 17 of the 20 largest school districts in the state of Colorado, compromise the educational process and provide monetary and institutional benefits to unions at the expense of local school boards, students, and the taxpayer.





The school districts are listed below in order of enrollment figures, beginning at the largest and culminating in the 20th largest in the State of Colorado. Under each school district, the heading of Leave for the Union President precedes the heading of Union Leave for Other Teachers, and together these headings are followed by a calculation of the total taxpayer subsidy to the local teachers union.

1) Jefferson County School District R-1

With approximately 88,000 students enrolled, the Jefferson County School District is the largest school district in Colorado. Its jurisdiction covers much of the western metropolitan area. The current collective bargaining agreement in Jefferson County was ratified in 1999 and is valid until 2003.

A) Leave for the Union President. The union president receives a leave of absence from his or her teaching duties during his or her term in office; “the amount of release time shall be determined annually, and the Association shall reimburse the District for the President’s salary in proportion to the amount of release time.”11 Although the agreement does not stipulate that the union reimburses the district for benefits, the Jefferson County Education Association has provided a document showing that the union does reimburse the district for the union president's salary and benefits.

B) Union Leave for Other Teachers. The Jefferson County collective bargaining agreement prescribes 275 “release days per calendar year for professional leave” at the disposal of “official representatives” of the union for the purpose of “attending JCEA, CEA and NEA functions.”The district is responsible for providing substitute teachers on these days. This provision equates to a massive subsidy to the union:

2) Denver Public School District

With an enrollment of 70,847 students, DPS is the second largest school district in the state of Colorado and serves the city and county of Denver. The current collective bargaining agreement in Denver is binding from September 1, 1999- August 31, 2002. Its subsidies to the DCTA break down as follows:

A) Leave for the Union President. The DPS collective bargaining agreement requires the district to provide “full salary, benefits and all other entitlements” to the union president “during the President’s term in office.” However, “on an annual basis, the Association shall remit to the District the amount commensurate with salary and benefits costs of employing a replacement teacher.” Generally, the union president is an experienced educator with an established salary, and the district hires a more inexperienced interim teacher as a replacement; accordingly, the difference in salary and benefits between the union president and the replacement teacher can easily equal as much as $20,000. That difference is a net subsidy to the teachers union out of the taxpayer’s pocket.

B) Union Leave for Other Teachers. The DPS collective bargaining agreement provides for 250 days of union leave. During the first 150 days, the district pays the full costs of the teachers’ salary and the pay of the substitute; for the last 100 days, if used by the union, the cost of providing the substitutes falls to the union while the cost of the teachers’ salary remains with the district. Under the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement, the following subsidy is calculated:

If the Union exercises its option for 100 more leave days as provided in the contract, it receives a net subsidy of the teachers’ salaries minus the pay of the substitutes:

If all of the elements of this provision are exercised, the total taxpayer subsidy for union leave equals $39,812.

Total Possible Annual Taxpayer Subsidy to the Teachers’ Union through the Denver Public Schools Collective Bargaining Agreement = $59,812.

3) Cherry Creek School District No. 5

The third largest school district in the state, Cherry Creek School District No. 5, is located in the southeastern metropolitan area and educates over 42,000. The current collective bargaining agreement is binding for the 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 school years.

A) Leave for Union President. The president of the Cherry Creek Education Association may be granted up to full-time leave to discharge his or her duties during the tenure of office. The union pays “seventy-five percent of the appropriate portion of the salary and benefits...paid on behalf of the President.” The district pays the other 25 percent and carries the cost of “the classroom replacement.” If full-time leave is granted to the union president, the district’s subsidy to the union could be $12,500.

B) Union Leave for Other Teachers. Under the current collective bargaining agreement the Association is granted 110 days of union leave per school year. The district continues to pay the per diem rate for the teachers using this leave, and the union pays for the substitutes in the classroom. This arrangement is reversed for any days used over 110, with the union paying the per diem cost and the district financing the substitute.

Total Taxpayer Subsidy to the Teachers’ Union Through the Cherry Creek School District No. 5 Collective Bargaining Agreement = $27,782.

4) Douglas County School District Re-1

Douglas County School District Re-1 is situated in the southern metropolitan area of Denver. In recent years the area has experienced an explosion in population, ballooning to a student enrollment of nearly 35,000. Unlike the other education associations in Colorado, the Douglas County Federation of Teachers is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO. The respective collective bargaining agreement is valid for two years, from 2000-2002.

A) Leave for the Union President. In Douglas County School District Re-1 the union president is granted an amount of release time “mutually agreed upon on an annual basis, by the Union and the District” in order to discharge the duties of the union president. The union pays the cost of salary and benefits commensurate with the percentage of time granted for such leave while the district pays the remainder of the president’s salary.

B) Union Leave for Other Teachers. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, the union receives 24 days of union leave per school year. The union bears the cost of providing substitutes on twelve of these days while the district pays the substitute on the remaining twelve days. Additionally, the union may be granted an additional 26 union leave days; on these days the union is required “to reimburse the District for the cost of the substitute.”

Total Taxpayer Subsidy to the Teachers’ Union through the Douglas County Collective Bargaining Agreement = $6950.


5) Colorado Springs School District 11

Colorado Springs School District 11, located in El Paso County, is a district of around 32,000 students. Its collective bargaining agreement is valid from July 1, 2000-June 30, 2002.

A) Leave for the Union President. Under the collective bargaining agreement, the union president is given the option of taking a yearlong leave of absence or 1⁄2 day every school day to discharge his/her duties. In either case, the school district funds 25% of the salary and 100% of the benefits of the union president, a sum easily reaching $15,000.

B) Union Leave for Other Teachers. Union leave must be preapproved by the District. It is financed entirely by the union when leave time is spent on union activities.

Total Possible Subsidy to the Teachers’ Union through the Colorado Springs 11 Collective Bargaining Agreement = $15,000.

6) Adams-Arapahoe 28J

The Adams-Arapahoe School District 28J, also known as the Aurora Public Schools, is located in the eastern metropolitan area and services an enrollment of over 30,000 students. Its current collective bargaining agreement is valid from 1999-2002.

A) Leave for the Union President. The union president is granted a leave of absence by the Board of Education and is "maintained on the district payroll.” The union reimburses the district the full salary of a replacement teacher, calculated as the average salary paid to new teachers that year, and the cost of the union president’s fringe benefits. The difference in salary can equal a subsidy of $17,000.

B) Union Leave For Other Teachers. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, the union may use up to 50 days of union leave with pay given the union will reimburse the district for the cost of substitutes on such leave days.

Total Subsidy to the Teachers’ Union through the Adams-Arapahoe 28J Collective Bargaining Agreement = $23,258.

7) Adams County School District No. 12

Adams County School District No. 12, also known as Northglenn Thornton District No. 12, is a district of 30,079 students in suburban Adams County. Its collective bargaining agreement covers school years 1998-2001.

A) Leave for the Union President. “The Board shall grant full release time with pay and benefits to the president of the Association during the president’s term of office.” Furthermore, “the Board shall grant half release time with pay and benefits to the coordinator of the Association.” The union remits the equivalent of the salary and benefits of a step-two replacement (on the salary schedule) for the union president and half of the salary and benefits of a step-two replacement for the union coordinator. This difference, however, can be as large as $20,000 for the union president and $10,000 for the union coordinator, a total subsidy of $30,000.

B) Union Leave For Other Teachers. “The district shall provide twenty-five and one-half (25.5) days per school year of Association leave without cost to the Association,” meaning that the district pays for a substitute. Any additional leave taken for union purposes is charged to the union at the rate of pay for substitutes during those days.

This subsidy increases when the union exercises its entitlement to further union leave days.

Total Taxpayer Subsidies to the Teachers’ Union through the Adams County School District 12 Collective Bargaining Agreement = $35,751.

8) Boulder Valley School District RE2J

The Boulder Valley School District services approximately 27,000 students in the city and county of Boulder. The collective bargaining agreement in this district runs from July 1, 2001-June 30, 2002.

A) Leave for the Union President. The Boulder Valley School District RE2J collective bargaining agreement “the Board agrees…that the president and vice president of the Association…should be relieved of their duties without loss of salary, seniority, or fringe benefits.” The union compensates the district for the cost of a replacement teacher for the union president, remitting to the district an amount equal to the average salary and benefits of first-year, non-probationary teachers hired by the district that year. The difference between these rates of compensation can be as high as $20,000. The union also pays for a half-time replacement for the union vice president using a formula of one-half times the average salary paid to first-year, non-probationary teachers that year. The difference between these pay rates can reach $10,000. In total, the taxpayer subsidizes the salary and benefits of union employees to the tune of $30,000.

B) Union Leave For Other Teachers. Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement “The Board shall grant the Association 100 days paid leave for its representatives to attend workshops, conferences, and other activities of the Association and its state and national affiliates.”The district pays the cost of a substitute on these days. The union may petition the district to allow more than the allocated total of 100 days if the union compensates the district for the full cost of the substitutes hired each day above the 100 Association days.

If the union exercises its option for more union leave days, this figure can easily be much higher.

Total Taxpayer Subsidy to the Teachers’ Union through the Boulder Valley RE2J Collective Bargaining Agreement = $52,814.

9) Poudre School District R-1

Servicing the city of Fort Collins, the Poudre School District R-1 includes an enrollment of 24,052 students.

A) Leave for the Union President. Under policies promulgated by the Poudre School District Board of Education, “the district provides funding for the president of the Poudre Education Association. The district bears “the actual cost less 1⁄2 Teacher B.A. base rate of pay reimbursed by PEA.” In other words, the district pays the union president’s salary, and the union contributes one-half of the base salary to the cost of the replacement teacher. The union president is granted full-time release from teaching duties, meaning that under this arrangement the net taxpayer subsidy to the PEA easily equals $35,000.

B) Union Leave For Other Teachers. Under an agreement with the superintendent, the Poudre Education Association receives 30 total union leave days to attend the Colorado Education Association delegate assembly at no expense to the union. This allowance creates the following taxpayer subsidy:

Total Taxpayer Subsidy to the Teachers’ Union through the Poudre Valley Collective Bargaining Agreement = $41,329.

10) Mesa Valley County School District No. 51

The Mesa County Valley District No. 51 is located on the Western Slope of Colorado in and surrounding Grand Junction. The District boasts an enrollment of nearly 20,000 students. The collective bargaining agreement in Mesa County Valley School District is valid from July 1, 1998- June 30, 2001.

A) Leave for the Union President. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, the union president is granted either half or full-time release from teaching duties during the tenure of office with no loss of “salary, insurance, and retirement benefits.” If half-time leave is requested, the union reimburses the district one-half of the union president’s salary and benefits. If full-time release is requested, “the Association will reimburse the District commensurate with Range 2, Step 3” of the salary schedule, including benefits, to hire a replacement.This difference in salary and benefits can equal $17,000.

B) Union Leave. Requests for professional leave are initially approved by the building principal. After gaining such approval, these requests are submitted to the Teacher Professional Leave Panel (TPLP), “consisting of five (5) teachers selected by the Association and one (1) administrator in an ex officio capacity.” Four hundred fifty (450) days of professional leave with substitutes financed by the district are available for distribution by the TPLP. An additional 50 days per year may be granted to teachers’ requesting professional leave and paying for their own substitutes. Furthermore, the district “will also appropriate fifty-three thousand dollars ($53,000) each school year to the TPLP,” funds available to defray expenses incurred in the use of this leave. “The decision of the TPLP is final.” If the TPLP elected to allow these professional leave days to be used exclusively for union activities, the total subsidy from the taxpayer to the local union would be:

If the additional 50 leave days are used, the amount of the subsidy grows:

The District also provides the additional fund of $53,000.

Total Possible Taxpayer Subsidy to the Teachers’ Union through the Mesa Valley County School District No. 51 Collective Bargaining Agreement = $171,015.

11) St. Vrain Valley School District No. RE-J1

The St. Vrain Valley School District No. Re-J1 covers a large portion of Boulder County, providing education to nearly 19,000 students. The current collective bargaining agreement took effect on July 1, 2000 and expires on December 31, 2002.

A) Leave for the Union President. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, the union president “shall be relieved of his/her teaching duties without loss of salary, fringe benefits, or status” during the year. The union compensates the district an amount equal to 123% of the district’s base salary. The difference, a net subsidy to the union, can reach $17,000.

B) Union Leave for Other Teachers. Each academic year the union is “granted 55 days of Association leave…to participate in Association activities as determined by the Association president.” These days are provided by the district at no cost to the union. Therefore, in any given year, the amount of the taxpayer subsidy to the union through union leave is equal to:

Total Taxpayer Subsidy to the Teachers’ Union through the St. Vrain Valley School District Collective Bargaining Agreement = $28,965.

12) Pueblo School District No. 60

Pueblo School District No. 60, located in southern Colorado, has an enrollment of 17,636 students. The current collective bargaining agreement runs for two years, from September 1, 2000-August 31, 2002.

A) Leave for the Union President. Under the Pueblo School District No. 60 collective bargaining agreement the Pueblo Education Association pays the salary and benefits of the union president during his/her term of office.

B) Union Leave for Other Teachers. The Pueblo Education Association is given 200 “duty days per school year…for Association representatives to attend Association workshops, conferences, conventions, and other Association activities.” The union reimburses the district for the cost of hiring substitutes on these days. The net taxpayer subsidy through union leave is equal to the amount of salary paid by the district to teachers on leave during these days minus the amount remitted by the union to the district to defray the cost of providing substitutes.

Total Taxpayer Subsidy to the Teachers’ Union through the Pueblo School District No. 60 Collective Bargaining Agreement = $22,144.

13) Academy District 20

Academy District 20 is located in El Paso County and serves more than 17,000 students. This District does not have a collective bargaining agreement; however, the Union requests 1-2 leave days per year, reimbursing the District the cost of hiring substitutes on these days.48

14) School District No. 6 (Littleton)

School District No. 6, otherwise known as the Littleton School District, has an enrollment of over 16,000 students. Located in suburban Arapahoe County, its current collective bargaining agreement began on August 1, 2000 and runs until July 31, 2003.

A) Leave for the Union President. Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the union president, during his/her leave of office, maintains full salary and benefits as if employed by the District. The union reimburses the district for “the full salary costs of the average salary of those new teachers employed for the contract year of the President’s term of leave plus eighteen (18%) of that figure to offset fringe benefit costs." The district continues to pay the union president's PERA, health, life, dental, and disability insurance benefits. The difference between these rates of pay, a net subsidy to the Littleton Education Association, can reach $20,000.

B) Union Leave for Other Teachers. “The Littleton Education Association may be granted up to fifty (50) days of release time per calendar year to be used by L.E.A. representatives.” The union reimburses the district the cost of substitutes on those days.

Total Taxpayer Subsidy to the Teachers’ Union through the Littleton School District Collective Bargaining Agreement = $26,204.

15) Weld County School District 6

The Weld County School District 6 provides educational services to 15,998 students in Greeley and Evans.

A) Leave for the Union President. In Weld County School District 6, “the president of the Association will be granted 100% release time with full pay and benefits during the term of office and will receive full experience credit and advancement to the appropriate step of the salary schedule annually.” The Greeley Education Association reimburses the district the equivalent of the lowest starting salary of a first year replacement teacher. Because of the sliding pay scale, this difference can amount to $25,000 of taxpayer money funneling into the union’s coffers. Furthermore, the district places $5,000 in an account “to support the cost associated with the president’s release time.”

B) Union Leave for Other Teachers. The collective bargaining agreement in Weld County School District 6 stipulates that “the Association representatives will be granted thirty (30) contact days release time per school year” with the express purpose of attending “the Colorado Education Association Delegate Assembly” with substitutes financed by the district.

The Greeley Education Association further reserves the right to designate individuals who may use union leave days during the school year. The GEA pays the costs of substitute teachers on those days, but the district pays the teachers’ salaries. This arrangement grants an increasingly larger subsidy to the union.

Total Taxpayer Subsidy to the Teachers’ Union through the Greeley School District No. 6 Collective Bargaining Agreement = $36,169.

16) Thompson School District R2-J

The Thompson School District R2-J, based in Larimer County, is a district of more than 14,000 students. The collective bargaining agreement is renewed annually, with the agreement examined here covering the 2000-2001 school year.

A) Leave for the Union President. The Thompson School District R2-J collective bargaining agreement states that “the president of the Association shall be granted full-time release with full pay and benefits during the term of his/her office” financed by the district. The district and the union bear the cost equally of hiring a replacement teacher up to a Step 3, Column 3 salary ($27,718 in 2000-2001). In addition, the replacement’s "benefits and any additional salary will be paid by the Thompson School District." Therefore, the net subsidy to the Thompson Education Association is equal to the union president’s salary plus salary and benefits for the replacement teacher minus the amount paid by the union for a replacement teacher. This figure can easily reach $35,000.

B) Union Leave for Other Teachers. The Thompson Education Association receives 24 days of union leave “to attend the Colorado Education Association Delegate Assembly and other association-related activities.” The substitutes are furnished by the district on these days. The district, furthermore, grants paid release time to any Thompson Education Association teacher “elected to a Colorado or National Education Association position” provided the union pays the cost of any necessary substitutes.

Total Taxpayer Subsidy to the Teachers’ Union through the Thompson School District Collective Bargaining Agreement = $35,088.

17) Adams County School District 50

Located in the northwest metropolitan area, Adams County School District 50, otherwise known as Westminster School District 50, serves nearly 11,231 students. Its current collective bargaining agreement became binding on July 1, 2000 and expires on June 30, 2003.

A) Leave for the Union President. The Adams County School District 50 collective bargaining agreement states “the Board will grant the president of the Association released time from District responsibilities without penalty as to placement on the salary schedule, PERA coverage, fringe benefits or specific job assignments.” The union reimburses the district “for the salary, benefits, and PERA costs of the president.” Other teachers are allowed to donate personal accumulated leave time to the union to defray the cost of reimbursing the district for the president’s salary.

B) Union Leave for Other Teachers. “The Association shall be entitled to up to seventy (70) days of release time during each school year provided the Association pays the cost of the substitute teacher at District substitute daily rate.” This agreement creates the following subsidy:

Total Taxpayer Subsidy to the Teachers’ Union through the Adams County School District No. 50 Collective Bargaining Agreement = $7,025.

18) Harrison School District 2

The Harrison School District, located in El Paso County with an enrollment of over 10,000 students, has no collective bargaining agreement with the Union. District has not received a request for a leave day in the last five years.

19) Widefield School District 3

Widefield School District No. 3, located in El Paso County, has an enrollment of over 8,000 students.

A) Leave for the Union President. Although the Widefield School District has no collective bargaining agreement, any organization that meets the district’s definition of an association is granted up to 20 days of paid leave each year. An association officer must submit a request for leave from the superintendent at least three days in advance and the association pays the cost of a substitute on those days. Not more than five days will be granted for one individual.

B) Union Leave for Other Teachers. See “Leave for the Union President.” Assuming there is only one recognized association in the district, this provision creates the following subsidy:

Total Taxpayer Subsidy to the Teachers’ Union through the Widefield District 3 Board of Education Policy = $2,046.

20) School District No. 70 (Pueblo)

School District No. 70, otherwise known as Pueblo School District No. 70, is located in southern Colorado and serves approximately 7,000 students.

A) Leave for the Union President. The union president is released from his/her duties for the full year at no loss of salary and benefits. The union pays the cost of the president’s salary and benefits.

B) Union Leave for Other Teachers. “Forty-two (42) days of Association Leave per school year may be granted to teachers to permit them to attend conferences or conventions sponsored by the Colorado Education Association or the National Education Association…at no charge to the Association.” This provision produces the following subsidy to the Pueblo County Teachers’ Association:

Total Taxpayer Subsidy to the Teachers’ Union through the Pueblo School District No. 70 Collective Bargaining Agreement = $7846.

Total Combined Possible Annual Taxpayer Subsidy to Local Education Associations through the Collective Bargaining Agreements in the 20 Largest School Districts in Colorado = $661,623.

* John Gore is a Research Associate for the Independence Institute, which is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. Mr. Gore wrote this Issue Paper 7-2001, which was originally published in October 9, 2001, but was revised on January 31, 2003. Copyright ©2001 is retained by the Independence Institute, which granted permission to reprint. The Independence Institute is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.




1 Much of the methodology, observations, and recommendations applied in this study were borrowed from a similar study conducted by Myron Lieberman, Ph.D., and entitled Collective Bargaining In Florida School Districts (Tallahassee: The James Madison Institute)

2 Master Agreement between Board of Education School District No. 12, Adams County and District Twelve Educators Association School Years 1998-2001, p. 90.

3 Agreement Between The Board Of Education and the Employees represented by The Boulder Valley Education Association of the Boulder Valley School District RE2J, July 1, 2001-June 30, 2002, p. 57.

4 Master Agreement between The Colorado Springs Education Association and The Board of Education School District No. 11, July 1, 2000- June 30, 2002, p. 36.

5 Ibid., pp. 1-2.

6 Addendum to the Agreement between the Mesa Valley Education Association and the Mesa County Valley School District No. 51 July 1, 1998-June 30, 2001, May 18, 1999, p. 2.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Lewis, Charles The Buying of the President 2000 (New York, Avon Books, Inc), p. 53.

10 William L. Sanders and Sandra P. Horn, “Research Findings from the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) Database: Implications for Educational Evaluation and Research” Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education, 12:3, 1998, p. 247.

11 Agreement between Jefferson County School District R-1 and Jefferson County Education Association, 1999-2003, p. 75.

12 Ibid., p. 67.

13 Agreement between School District No. 1 and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, 1999-2002, p. 53.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid., p. 54-55.

16 Cherry Creek School District #5 Board of Education Policies and Negotiated Agreement for Teachers, 1999-2000, 2000-2001, p. 82.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Contract Between Douglas County Federation of Teachers and Douglas County School District Re-1, 2000-2002, p. 2.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid.

22 Master Agreement Between The Colorado Springs Education Association and The Board of Education School District No. 11 Colorado Springs, Colorado, July 1, 2000-June 30, 2002, p. 7-8.

23 Ibid., 36.

24 Agreement between The Board of Education for Aurora Public Schools and the Aurora Education Association, July 1, 1999-June 30, 2002, p. 12.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid.

27 Master Agreement between Board of education School District No. 12, Adams County and District Twelve Educators’ Association, School Years 1998-2001, p. 90.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid., p. 13.

31 Ibid., p. 13.

32 Agreement Between The Board of Education and the employees represented by the Boulder Valley Education Association of the Boulder Valley School District RE2J, July 1, 2001- June 30, 2002, p. 57.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid., p. 58.

36 Poudre School District Employee Agreement Policy Code: Am031, 

37 Ibid.

38 Addendum to Agreement between the Mesa Valley Association and the Mesa County Valley School District No. 51, July 1, 1998- June 30, 2001, May 18, 1999, p. 1.

39 Ibid.

40 Ibid., p. 1-2.

41 Ibid., p. 2.

42 Ibid.

43 Ibid.

44 Agreement between the St. Vrain Valley Education Association and the St. Vrain Valley School District No. RE-1J, July 1, 2000-December 31, 2002, p. 32.

45 Ibid.

46 Agreement Between the Pueblo School District No. 60 and the Pueblo Education Association Incorporated, September 1, 2000-August 31, 2002, p. 9.

47 Ibid.

48 Personal telephone conversation with administrator in Academy District 20.

49 Collective Bargaining Agreement Between School District No. Six and the Littleton Education Association, August 1, 2000-July 31, 2003, p. 7.

50 Ibid., p. 6.

51 Master Contract between the Greeley Education Association and the Board of Education, School District No. 6, July 1, 2000, p. 8.

52 Ibid., p. 9.

53 Ibid., p. 8.

54 Memorandum of Understanding between the Thompson Education Association and the Thompson School District R2-J Board of Education, p. 4.

55 Ibid., p. 3.

56 Agreement Between The Westminster Education Association and the Adams County School District #50 Board of Education, July 1, 2000- June 30, 2003, p. 46.

57 Ibid.

58 Ibid.

59 Private telephone conversation with administrator in Harrison District 2.

60 Widefield School Board Policy GBB.

61 Negotiated Agreement Between School District No. 70 and the Pueblo County Teachers’ Association, July 1, 2000- June 30, 2003, p. 28.

62 Ibid.


Independence Institute

Jon Caldara is President.
David Kopel is Research Director.
Pamela Benigno is Director of the Education Policy Center.
John Gore is a Research Associate.

NOTHING WRITTEN here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.


In August 1997, a certain Mr. T. Trahan of CSC Credit Service wanted to let his sales executives work out of their home offices. He was uncertain about his possible obligations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, so he wrote to OSHA, the agency that administers the act.

The wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly: His query went unanswered for over two years, but he finally received a reply in November 1999. Those wheels also grind exceeding small, because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration finally said that, yes, a workplace is a workplace and the act applies even if it is in a home. The employer must diligently identify possible hazards to protect the employee.

OSHA's interpretive letter went on for six pages, covering such employee dangers as the possible overload of electrical circuits, the need for material safety data sheets covering hazardous chemicals, the applicability of its then-pending rule on ergonomics, and other such intricacies.

This assertion of OSHA authority went unnoticed until the next January, when a Washington Post story about it triggered a frenzy of media and congressional objections to over-regulation and invasion of the home. OSHA withdrew the letter within 24 hours, and within three weeks its head told a Senate committee that it did not hold employers responsible for home offices, did not expect employers to inspect these, would not itself inspect, and regretted the whole misunderstanding.

But that testimony clouded the reality that the agency did not retreat an inch from its view that the act does in fact apply to home offices, and that agency forbearance is a matter of choice, not law. OSHA could at any time reverse its stance, at a cost estimated by the Employment Policy Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that leans toward the business side of employment issues, of at least $1,000 per home office for compliance with rules on clutter, lighting, furniture, exit signs, lead paint, and so on.

The OSHA telecommuting controversy was only the most publicized recent instance of the growing conflict between the possibilities of the information-age economy and the rust-caked body of labor laws and--equally important--mental attitudes built over the past century.

The business community assessed the outcome of the telecommuting encounter as an armistice, not a victory. Bobbie Kilberg, president of the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC), told the same Senate committee that the agency's retreat allowed her organization to continue its pro-telecommuting policy "for the present time," but that for the long run the policy needs to be formalized by legislation, or at least rulemaking.

Kilberg noted that seven of NVTC's 17 employees telecommute at least one day per week, and that four of these are mothers with children under 14. She could have added that the NVTC is only one example of a significant trend. A Gallup poll last autumn found 8 million full-time telecommuters in the U.S.--a number up from zero a decade ago--out of a total workforce of 135 million. The number of part-time telecommuters is believed to be much higher.

In a year when the soccer mom was the most different lusted-after political quarry in America, the significance of Kilberg's numbers could not have escaped the senators. Woe awaits the elected official who lets OSHA eliminate the flexibility that telecommuting offers to the professional classes.

What Do Women Workers Want?


While the telecommuting battle was going on, OSHA's analogue in the Department of Labor, the Employment Standards Administration, was fighting its own war against the new economy. ESA handles such issues as time-and-a-half overtime pay, which is required if hourly workers put in more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week. It was asked how the calculation of time-and-a-half was affected by a worker's receipt of stock options. In February 1999, it answered with an interpretation saying that the value of the option had to be considered as part of the employee's base pay. Then it added an elaborate and absolutely incomprehensible guideline on calculating this value. As a result, a company would have had to be insane to even consider stock options for hourly workers ever again.

This, too, sat unnoticed for a time, then hit the press big at the end of 1999. As in the telecommuting case, the political system reacted strongly. But this time, ESA did not retreat. So in May 2000 Congress changed the law, by a unanimous vote in each house, so that stock options are not considered part of an hourly employee's basic pay.

Telecommuting and stock options have both become important issues because new social attitudes are emerging from the new economy. The stock option question reflects several beliefs--the idea that all should participate in the economic returns from the new economy, a blurring of historic dichotomies between labor and capital, and concepts of worker participation and the "we're all on the team" ethic.

The defense of telecommuting reflects a rising national appetite for flexible employment arrangements. The Employment Policy Foundation notes that 90 percent of employed Americans work under traditional arrangements (i.e., 40 hours a week, eight hours a day at the employer's workplace, or some regular part-time arrangement), but some 51 percent would like looser deals, such as working from home or dropping in and out of the labor force.

The desire for flexibility is especially pronounced among parents, and two-thirds of all mothers with children under 3 are now working (compared with 42 percent in 1980). Employers have been responding. While total work time required may remain rigid, more give is creeping into starting and ending times. In 1991, 15 percent of all full-time workers had flexible schedules; by 1997 (the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics), 28 percent did.

Congress, ever ready to impose quotas in the name of whatever cause achieves sacred-cow status, has picked up telecommuting. It has decreed that federal agencies must allow telecommuting and that the Office of Personnel Management must ensure that at least 25 percent of the federal workforce is participating, starting immediately.

The increase in telecommuting and in flextime has fueled many stories about the growing openness of labor arrangements. But these two developments are not the tip of a new labor iceberg; they are the whole iceberg. In other areas, working arrangements are steadily becoming less rather than more flexible.

For example, one might expect that many young mothers who have moved into the labor force would prefer part-time to full-time work. In fact, while the absolute number of part-time workers has expanded, part-timers as a percentage of the work force have declined from 20 percent in 1982 to 16 percent today.

Nor is the Internet generating the host of independent contractors or temporary employees that was anticipated. Only 8.2 million workers are independent, and they are mostly what they have always been: management consultants, sales reps, real estate agents, carpenters, and truck drivers. No more than 156,000 independents work as computer geeks, and no tide of independents is discernible in other parts of the economy.

Agency-employed temps are also rare, supplying only 1.2 million workers. They are not particularly noticeable in high tech; only 1 percent (18,000) of all systems analysts and 2 percent (15,000) of programmers live in the temp world.

The increase in scheduling flexibility has also proved a limited benefit. It applies mostly to professional, managerial, and sales workers, 40 percent of whom can control their schedules. As one moves down any given hierarchy, flexibility grows more rare.

Logically, introducing flexibility into organizational structures and work schedules could not only accommodate the desires of soccer moms and dads, it could produce significant economic savings that would benefit firms and workers. Yet so far the response to the possibilities created by the information age has been notably tepid. Why?

Keeping the Workers Down

Conventional labor arrangements are largely dictated by the economic imperatives involved in making the most efficient use of a firm's infrastructure, such as the support staff, supervisory time and energy, information resources, and communications. These require centralized work sites and consistent hours of operation. They also require massive investments in buildings and equipment that are used a measly 40 hours a week, plus an expensive transportation infrastructure built to meet rush hour needs that also eats up billions of hours of human commuting time.

The rise of the Internet, among other communication technologies, offers huge opportunities to organize work in new ways. Space and equipment costs can be cut, travel time reduced, even public infrastructure investments re-configured. The potential gains in efficiency are dazzling.

But the centralized structures and fixed schedules of the modern workplace are dictated by something other than economic efficiency. They are compelled by federal and state government rules, and it is far from clear that these will permit the changes necessary to produce possible gains. In fact, to judge by the telecommuting and stock-options cases, it is clear that these rules will be modified only after bitter, inch-by-inch struggles.

The U.S. Department of Labor enforces over 180 different laws. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the National Labor Relations Board administer regulatory empires of their own, and the 50 states add yet more regulatory layers. These laws encompass a huge array of subjects and purposes.

The first of the big federal acts was the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which required that federal construction projects pay "prevailing wages" so as to avoid cutthroat competition for scarce work during the Depression. Other federal laws initiated during the Depression era, or added since, cover wages and hours, protection of corporate whistleblowers, pensions, family and medical leave, occupational safety and health, disabilities, and many points in between.

It is a jerrybuilt structure, and much of it was enacted for dubious motives. Davis-Bacon was designed by its congressional sponsors to ensure that African Americans, who were not allowed into unions, got no share of Depression-era public spending.

Laws against home-based work are based partly on the truth that the practice can be used to avoid minimum wage laws. But they also provide employment to people who do not want to keep a regular schedule. The labor bureaucracy's hostility to such arrangements derives largely from the labor-union calculation that home workers are hard to organize. The Department of Labor has conducted a decades-long crusade against folks who want to supplement meager incomes by part-time knitting at home.

Much of the structure of labor law reflects the zanier thinking of the New Deal. One was the idea that the U.S. was a mature economy in the 1930s, and that available work must be rationed. Another was that the road to recovery lay through the creation of scarcity by reducing supply while raising prices. (John Maynard Keynes tried to talk Roosevelt out of this one; he failed.)

The structure remains as built, as if Rube Goldberg had designed it, however inconsistent with subsequent experience or modern life. One of its most important premises is that flexibility is bad. Labor policy assumes that employers have power and workers do not. Thus, workers should not be permitted to bargain over conditions of employment, except through unions, because the imbalance of power means that anything that mightlead to abuse will lead to abuse.

Thus, if hourly workers are allowed to work 10 hours a day for four days instead of eight hours for five days, then employers will impose this schedule on some unwilling workers. This cannot be allowed. Thus, if employers and employees are allowed to agree that a worker will get comp time instead of overtime pay, then employers will force this on workers. This too must be forbidden. The idea that labor markets might work like other markets, that workers might sort themselves out according to their own preferences among packages offered by different employers, is antithetical to the still-prevailing New Deal belief system.

Although unions have often been criticized for crafting unyielding work rules, legal standards actually impose greater rigidity on the workplace. Unions can be bought off, persuaded to relax a rule in a trade for money. Legal standards, on the other hand, are set in stone. If the Fair Labor Standards Act forbids a four-day, 10-hour-a-day week, then that's that. The employer can't offer more money for the flexibility, nor can an employee who desperately wants the new schedule offer to take less.

Even anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws, which have goals with which all would concur, have become forces for rigidity. They are shot through with vagueness and uncertainty, and the multimillion-dollar damages that juries have awarded under these laws have put employers into a defensive posture. This means inflexibility. Because supervisor discretion is too easily painted as discrimination, everyone must be treated alike and everything must be documented. Flexible arrangements cannot be offered to some employees and not others, which makes employers reluctant to offer them at all.

The potential implosion of Social Security is reinforcing government's propensity to enforce rigidity. Any sensible current entrant into the work force would opt out. He would declare himself a free agent, ask that his employer's share of Social Security be paid to him in cash, and sock both it and his own share into an index fund. A $50,000 per year worker would save $7,650 in a year, which at 6 percent would be worth $61,200 in 36 years. Few expect the rate of return from Social Security to be as high.

The Internal Revenue Service seems, sensibly, to fear massive defections from the system, and is growing more imperious in its decisions restricting employers' use of free agents. Any effort toward flexibility is assumed to be motivated by a desire to evade Social Security tax obligations, and can be countenanced only if the deal passes an elaborate 20-point test. An employer who guesses wrong on the result will pay heavily.

The IRS' assault on flexibility is always justified by stern lectures on the need to protect the workers against exploitive employers, never in terms of protecting Social Security revenues against the rationality of the work force. In fact, the IRS policy injures workers both directly and indirectly. Not only is the worker's rate of return on his savings reduced, but employers have responded by imposing strict time limits on the tenure of independent contractors, decreeing that after a set period-- usually three months--they must be cast adrift, regardless of their own desire or the state of the project on which they are working. Companies have also stopped hiring temps directly, forcing them to come in through temp agencies, which take a big chunk out of their pay. Both courses leave the workers worse off.


Employers who adopt flexible arrangements are also getting nicked by employees who repent of their bargain and want labor law to rewrite it. Last year, Microsoft agreed to pay almost $100 million to workers who had signed very clear contracts affirming their independent status. The IRS forced their reclassification as employees, and they then sued Microsoft on the theory that as employees they should have received stock purchase privileges in the 1980s.

AOL is being sued by volunteers who manned its chat rooms and performed other community services. Their original arrangement was very communitarian, and much like a gift economy; their recompense was in the accolades of the online community and in free connection time, which was valuable when AOL charged $6 an hour, but worth zilch when it instituted flat pricing of $19.95 per month.

These volunteers noticed that many company employees earned not just community approval but cash and stock options, which then became worth a fortune. They also noticed that the Fair Labor Standards Act does not allow volunteers in profit-making organizations. Like the Microsoft contractors, they want to be employees, retroactively.

Customer representatives at Amazon's Seattle facility are also reconsidering the glories of the new economy. They launched a unionization drive, an effort brought to a halt when the company cut the size of the facility and fired most of them.

Racial-bias litigation is increasing, with some minorities alleging that their underrepresentation in high-tech industries must be due to discrimination. They, too, want retroactive relief, particularly stock options, calculated at the peak values of the NASDAQ.

New Economy vs. Old Law

The collision between the possibilities of the new economy and the institutionalized rigidity of old-style labor policy is creating an odd reversal. Businesses and their workers want to use the new technologies to take more account of employees' personal and family needs, expanding opportunities to fit work into a satisfying overall pattern. The partisans of the status quo are resisting, which means they persist in the dogma that employees must be treated as fungible factors of production and plugged into one-size-fits-all slots in the workplace.

There are several reasons behind this reactionary stubbornness. One is the perceived interests of the unions, which have dominated labor policy since the New Deal. Another is that labor law is administered by large bureaucracies, which must operate through rules. Because no bureaucratic structure can be made sophisticated and flexible enough to deal with all the complexities of real life, real life must be remolded to fit the needs of the structure. Note that OSHA took over two years to respond to a simple letter of inquiry about the legal status of home offices, as if the Internet and the world of telecommuting were supposed to freeze in place until OSHA staff got around to looking at their in-boxes. A third factor is that the world of labor law administration is self-selected: People are drawn to jobs as labor law administrators because they embrace old concepts of class conflict. Combine all these factors and the result is an inevitable hostility to the new, fast-changing, and flexible world of work.

Can these forces win their war against the new economy? The ability of governments to enforce sclerosis should never be underestimated. Still, the potential economic and human gains from workplace flexibility are so immense that it is difficult to imagine either businesses or individual workers giving in without a major fight.

Consider the ongoing reconfiguration of industries at the core of the new economy, those in which the output can be translated into bits and moved anywhere in the world at the speed of light: movies, music, publishing, computer software, R&D of all kinds. These are the industries that can take greatest advantage of the economies attainable from dispersing their work forces and cutting back on their central offices.

The new configuration also greatly expands the talent base on which such a company can draw. Previously, a magazine published in Chicago had most of its staff there because interacting by mail was too slow. Staff was thus limited to those writers and editors living in Chicago or willing to move there.

Now, to say a magazine is published in a given city is increasingly meaningless. Writers and editors can be anywhere, and so can the printing plant, and none of these need be in the same place. This expansion of horizons also helps the writers. They can live in Chicago without limiting their options to that city, or they can live somewhere else and still work for the Chicago-based publication.

They have become much more mobile. Taking a job with a new publication no longer means pulling up stakes physically, so the risks of both hiring (for the magazine) and job change (for the writer) are greatly reduced. This in turn fosters innovation and experimentation. It also increases the possibility that a worker can put together two or three part-time gigs, which reduces further the costs and risks for all parties to the deal, thus creating yet more possibilities for innovative arrangements.

While new economy "bit-stream industries" offer the clearest examples of business evolution, similar changes are occurring throughout the old economy as well. Information is revolutionizing automobile manufacturing, oil drilling, and other activities once classified as "heavy industry." Computer programmers, automobile designers, lawyers, and other intellectual workers can be found all over the nation or the world, not gathered in a few business centers. Medicine is being revolutionized by bit streams in the form of pharmaceutical patents, and research facilities can be located anywhere. At a more prosaic level, American doctors now dictate post-operative notes that are transcribed by workers in India and returned to the U.S. by 7 the next morning. Even the medical advice itself can be dispensed over the Web. In the near future, your doctor may also be in India.

Are Labor Markets Like Other Markets?

There is a fundamental question at the core of this controversy, one that has remained long unresolved: Should labor markets be treated like other markets, and workers allowed to sort themselves out according to their own preferences?

Americans have always been ambivalent in their answer. On the one hand, economists regard U.S. flexibility, as opposed to European-style labor protection, as a source of economic strength. On the other, much U.S. law is indeed premised on the view that labor markets are not like other markets, and that special protection is necessary.

Part of the philosophy of the free market is that everyone is both a producer and a consumer. From this perspective, labor is a factor of production, like capital goods and real estate; the dictates of economic efficiency are that workers will be pushed to their limits. They will be subjected to competition and paid only the value that other people place on their production, and that much only if no one else can produce more cheaply.

But when workers switch to their role as consumers, things change. They then get the benefits of the wealth produced by the system. This wealth is immense, precisely because the system culls out business inefficiency and constantly reorganizes to put resources--including workers--to their most productive uses. The theory is that everyone is both consumer and producer, both king and serf. Because you cannot select only half of the system, the trade-offs benefit everyone.

In practice, people are always squeamish about this philosophy. It is difficult to separate the "factor of production" from the human being doing the producing. Moreover, the producer/consumer trade-off does not work so well for those at the lower end of the labor system, because they get fewer benefits on the consumer side. No society, certainly not a democratic one, will ever treat labor as mechanistically as pure market theory suggests.

This hesitation is strongly reinforced by political pressures. Most of us believe that the free-market system, however sound in theory, needs some tweaking in our favor. We all know that we personally are underpaid and overworked, and deserve dispensation from the tougher parts of being a producer. If we manage to convince the political system, we can get the benefits of the free market while dodging our share of its unpleasantness. The situation is a natural for political log rolling, and in fact different groups of workers are treated quite differently, depending on their political clout. Davis-Bacon still stands as the prime example of politically motivated labor law.

A second reason for interfering with labor markets is the conviction that there is an imbalance of power between employer and employees. This argument cannot be dismissed out of hand. Memory is long, and in the company towns of a couple of generations ago, the imbalance was only too real.

Even today, labor markets remain "sticky." That is, workers' ties to communities inhibit their mobility, and information about alternative employers is often imperfect. Moreover, workers often have invested to create skills specific to a particular job, company, or industry, and they may not be able to get rewarded for these if they change jobs. Employers can and do use such stickiness to their own advantage.

These concerns about labor markets are intertwined--employer power derived from stickiness leads to a sense that intervention is necessary which leads to log rolling. So one of the most interesting dimensions of the new economy is that it forces us to rethink historic positions on these issues. The revolution is improving labor markets just as it is improving the market for goods, and the reasons for many of the existing interventions--however good or bad they were when adopted--need reexamination.

Working-Class Flexibility

Job markets are no longer limited by the classified pages of the local newspaper; they exist nationwide. If bit streams are involved, then physical relocation is unnecessary, whether for hourly workers or for writers, sales representatives, and management consultants. One can work as an Amazon customer rep from anywhere, not just Seattle. Even the new economy equivalent of the assembly line, a job such as data entry, can be performed anywhere in the world, as in the case of the Indian medical note transcribers.

Relocating also entails less psychic trauma than it once did. Moving on speculation is less necessary; the labor market in a new locale can be checked in advance. Information about living in the new community is far more plentiful and accessible. If training is needed, that too is more available than ever, thanks to the Internet.

Even political log rolling may become less resistant to reform. The expansion in the number and diversity of information channels is making the government more transparent. People can use the Internet to learn about such things as the low rate of return on their Social Security contributions, or the special tax breaks given to particular groups.

Recently, a proposed expansion in the regulation requiring banks to nose into the affairs of their customers generated 250,000 e-mails to the federal agencies involved. This campaign was triggered entirely by Internet word of mouth. In contrast, in pre-Internet days, it would have been impossible for word of the government's telecommuting and stock-options decisions to have spread so quickly or to have aroused such instant and massive opposition.

One possible result of these developments is that the traditional American ambivalence about labor markets may change, too. We may become increasingly willing to accept the bargain whereby people bear the burdens of the market as producers and take the benefits as consumers. But the fate of the NASDAQ over the past year has tempered the hype of 18 months ago, as well as the everyone-a-capitalist-king enthusiasm.

In any event, all that has happened so far is that the professional classes are expanding the flexibility of their working hours and are getting the right to work from home some of the time. The free agent universe of the visionaries is not coming to pass, and is resisted by the labor and tax bureaucracies. But then the war between old labor law and the new economy is only beginning.

James V. DeLong is a senior fellow in the Project on Technology & Innovation at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. His e-mail address is:

A Commentary of Public Education Without Romance The Impact of Collective Bargaining on Indiana Schools

Study by Charles M. Freeland, Indiana Policy Review*

Commentary of the Study by
David W. Kirkpatrick**


Public Education Without Romance: The Impact of Collective Bargaining on Indiana Schools, a study by Charles M. Freeland, examines "the impact collective bargaining (has had) ... on the quality of public education in Indiana--and generally finds it harmful. Yet, Freeland says, "No effort to reform public education in Indiana, to 'change that system,' can hope to succeed until it addresses" the impact of collective bargaining.

At the time of Freeland's study, 291 of the 309 schools and special or vocational education districts in Indiana had collective bargaining agreements. Indiana's state constitution (like that of other states) has an article calling for the provision of public education, but doing so is affected by union contracts.

Freeland conducted the study to help policy-makers find a way to bring freedom and competition to Indiana's public schools, for the benefit of parents and children. Collective bargaining agreements with teacher unions, regardless of their merits, hinder the achievement of that goal.

Most public school officials and teachers lack adequate experience or expertise with teacher bargaining contracts. As recently as 1960, collective bargaining for teachers was rare, even illegal. In 1970, only 10 years later, 23 states had such laws, still less than half. By 1980, 31 states had joined the bargaining ranks. Indiana enacted its law in 1973, which became effective January 1, 1974.

State Laws Patterned After NLRA

While Freeland's study is restricted to Indiana, its implications and relevance are nationwide. This is most directly true for states with collective bargaining laws. While details of these laws vary, they have much in common because they are based on the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA).

One major example is that the NLRA allows for exclusive representation for a group receiving one vote more than 50% of the votes cast in a representation election. This has become so commonly accepted in this nation that few seem to be aware that exclusive representation is rare in other nations.

Exclusive Representation Rare in Other Nations

An Alexis de Tocqueville Institution study, conducted a few years ago, disclosed that many nations only allow a union to represent its own members. Consequently, teachers may join any one of several unions, or even choose to refrain from joining any such group and bargain as an individual.

Common Effects of Collective Bargaining Laws

Freeland's study also has relevance for other states because the effects of collective bargaining laws are so similar around the nation.

One effect is that the interests of unions sometimes conflict with the interests of their members. One sad example is that agreements give unions exclusive access to certain school facilities, such as internal mail systems (84% have such a provision), copying machines, telephones, public address systems, bulletin boards and meeting rooms. One might think it is unconstitutional to grant use of public facilities to one private party. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld such provisions. In doing so, though, it only said boards may agree to such requests, not that they are a constitutional right to which boards must agree.

Nor are these procedures mandated by state bargaining laws. At best it is something that laws permit to be subjects of bargaining discussions. Too many school boards, obviously ignorant of the implications of what they are doing, give in to such requests since they are "no-cost items." No direct cost in dollars, perhaps, but as Freeland states, such agreements provide no benefit to teachers, weaken the district board and administration, and strengthen the union.

Two other tactics, even more beneficial to the union, are to place in the contract provisions for what are termed "fair share" fees, and "maintenance of membership."

In the first, teachers don't have to join the union (it is illegal for the union to force them to join), but they must pay a "fare share" fee to the union in lieu of dues. The courts have ruled payments can be limited to that portion of dues required for negotiation purposes, but unions commonly get away with charging the full amount or close to it. Teachers refusing to pay can be fired, which should be unconstitutional but has been upheld by the courts.

In the second, maintenance of membership, teachers who do join the union voluntarily may withdraw their membership only during a stipulated period, such as 30 or 60 days immediately prior to the expiration of the current contract. Since the contract may run as long as five years, and the union doesn't remind members of the right to end their membership during this "window" period, membership in effect can become perpetual.

None of these "no-cost" tactics benefit teachers, yet they are agreed to by school districts because they think doing so saves money.

A union may come to the bargaining table with a proposal for, say, an 8% increase in salaries. The board may offer 2%. Eventually they get to 6% and 4% respectively. At that point, the union may say it will accept 5%, or even 4%, if the board will agree to one, two or more of the aforementioned provisions. The board, seeing a chance to save 1-2% for "no-cost" provisions, agrees.

What they have done is strengthen the union in return for nothing. The union may have been willing to agree to the final salary offer anyway. They may have come in with artificially high proposals--yes, that does happen--knowing they would trade some away to gain the "no-cost" provisions.

"Good Faith" Bargaining Rare

The reality of "good faith" bargaining is rarely achieved. In union negotiations, whether in the public or private sector, whether friendly or hostile, the give is by the employer and the take is by the union, with rare exceptions.

Consider the example above: the union initially proposes an 8% increase, the school district proposes 2%, and they settle on 5%. Each side "gives" up 3%. But the district's 3% actually costs them money; the union's 3% costs it nothing because it gave up what it never had.

Union Interest Put Above Member & Public Interests

Freeland's point about union vs. members interest is a common charge. Yet this is true of all organizations. As Milton Friedman and others have noted, every organization has, in general, three purposes: to serve the needs of the organization; to serve the needs of its members, whether individuals or groups; and to serve the public interest in varying degrees depending on the organization. They do this in that order: the organization; the members; and, finally, perhaps, the public interest.

New Indiana Law Prohibits "Fare Share" Fees

The situation is not hopeless! This was demonstrated in Indiana in 1995, when the state legislature passed a law prohibiting "fair share" fees in new contracts. A lower court ruled this to be unconstitutional, but it was overruled by a higher court. Yet some 35 school districts agreed to continue the fair-share clauses already in their contracts.

School Board Contract Pitfalls Benefiting Unions

This weakness of school boards, not confined to Indiana, is indicated by what they are willing to negotiate, even though bargaining laws commonly limit required bargaining to compensation, hours and compensation-related benefits. They are not required to agree to any specific terms. (Of course, on bargainable items they must agree to something or the courts would charge them with negotiating in bad faith.) In addition they may "discuss" other subjects. Yet contracts are full of provisions which boards have agreed to that limit their, and the administration's, freedom of action.

Many agreements have committees to which teachers appointed by the union may constitute at least half the members. One such committee selects the companies that will provide insurance and investment-related fringe benefits. The Indiana State Teachers Association owns its own insurance and fringe-benefit companies, from which it derives income, thus further strengthening the union. The Michigan Education Association has its own insurance subsidiary, even though studies there found the cost to districts was much higher than if they had gone to other insurance companies.

Another curious action by school boards is that every agreement contains a union rights clause, but rarely a management's rights clause clearly stating that the district's management retains all rights that it does not negotiate away. This is no minor error. Absence of such a clause can and does give rise to unfair practice charges, which are expensive and time-consuming, whether the district wins or loses.

The South Bend, Indiana, union contract contains an "academic freedom" clause that says,

Academic freedom shall be guaranteed to bargaining unit members, and no special limitations shall be placed upon study, investigation, presenting and interpreting facts and ideas concerning people, human society, the physical and biological world and other branches of learning subject to the course of studies in the (district).

Aside from the fact that "academic freedom" is a legitimate public concern, especially when the public is compelled to pay the costs and students are compelled to be in the classrooms, what does the above mean? Can a history teacher unilaterally and arbitrarily present and interpret facts because it is one of the "branches of learning subject to the course of studies in the district?"

It is common to use seniority when staff reductions must be made. Seniority requires that reductions be made on the basis of length of service, with most recently hired employees being the first to go. Many contracts provide for "bumping," whereby a senior teacher leaving a specific position is permitted to replace someone elsewhere in the system who has less service.

Seniority and bumping may or may not be sensible, depending on one's perspective. For unions, such policies permit them to avoid making, or agreeing to, judgments regarding the relative merits of its members. For teachers and the public, these policies prevent districts from arbitrarily firing senior teachers because they are higher on the salary schedule. Even so, seniority makes no distinction as to quality of teaching, and "bumping" may even reduce the quality by moving a more senior teacher to a new area or subject field for which he or she is less competent than the teacher whose job was lost.

Districts like to complain, sometimes with cause, about "unfunded mandates." Yet Freeland notes how they impose major mandates upon themselves. Commonly, districts pay retiring teachers for part of unused sick days, and perhaps for unused personal days. Severance payments for Indiana teachers average almost $20,000.

In every Indiana school collective bargaining agreement, districts made these commitments without setting aside the money to pay the self-imposed "unfunded" mandates. Finally, in 2001, Indiana law was amended to require districts to fund any future retirement or severance plan on an actuarially sound basis.

These are but some of the examples that deserve wider consideration and awareness. The common existence of these developments should lead to common awareness. Yet, as Freeland states, it isn't just taxpayers and the general public that are unaware of, or misinformed about, what is negotiated. Often the teachers are too. They may approve or reject a contract without knowing what's in it, beyond what the union officers and/or negotiators choose to tell them.

Freeland observed that, "As a rule, the more language that is included in an agreement, the more restricted are the board and administrators in making decisions." Contracts have become longer, more complex, and more restrictive on both management and the members the union represents. A survey in another state, where teachers could request waivers from restrictive policies, found that the greatest number of requests was for waivers from the union contract.

Proposals for Improvement

An analysis of this type would not be complete without some proposals for improvement.

State law must change before public schools will change, because rollbacks in contract provisions are rarely possible without the union's consent. Changes Freeland mentioned or implied include:

1. End mandatory exclusive representation by the unions.
2. Have collective-bargaining agreements expire at the end of their terms, while salaries continue unchanged. 
3. Except for salaries, have terms of the Teacher Tenure Law apply in the absence of a valid agreement.
4. Allow parents to send their children to the schools of their choice.
5. Public funding should follow the student, but parents might be responsible for transportation.
6. Allow schools to exist which have innovative funding mechanisms, such as universal tax credits, or contracts to operate for a profit, such as the Edison Schools, but which still satisfy the education mandate in the constitution.
7. Move to a market system in which everyone attempts to ensure the success of the process. (Freeland said that in non-market systems they attempt to ensure the failure of the process. That's a bit strong. They may not be equally motivated to ensure success, but that's not the same as saying everyone is attempting to ensure failure.) 
8. Include teachers in the state's Open Door Law. As public employees, paid with public money, by citizens who use the public system or are heavily affected by it, teachers should be included. 
9. Place collective bargaining agreements on the ballot for public approval before they can take effect.

Signs of Hope

Freeland is under no illusion about the inclination of politicians to accept these proposals, even though the problem with the system of public education is the system itself. Signs of hope are the 1995 Indiana prohibition of "fair-share" fees, and the public's recent willingness to discuss changes in Social Security--which for decades had been termed the "third rail" of American politics, political death to those who touched it.

In Indiana, about a dozen local associations are not affiliated with any state or national union. Several openly reject union labels or tactics, such as the use of the strike, or "fair share" fees. They are successful, as are a number in the neighboring state of Ohio, but most teachers are unaware of this. A teacher doesn't have to be anti-union to wonder why they should pay dues of $500-600 or more while other teacher locals function very nicely, including negotiating, on teacher dues of $150 or so annually.

Concerns About, and Contradictions In, Freeland's Study

As worthy as this study is, a few quibbles might be raised.

One concern is Freeland's view that, "The factory model does not work well in an educational setting." The statement is basically correct except for the implication that the word "education" is interchangeable with "school." The two are not the same. Collective bargaining was not adopted to deal with education. But "school" is another thing entirely.

The factory model was adopted for negotiations because schools are based on the factory model. Teachers are public employees. Public schools emerged as a way to "process" youngsters who move through the system as if on an assembly line, admittedly a very slow one. Unfortunately, unlike industry where a defective product is improved or removed from the belt, students continue the ride until they remove themselves or emerge at the end regardless of their condition. Both teachers and students are interchangeable parts. One leaving is replaced by another, almost at random.

Another quibble relates to the title: "Public Education Without Romance." There's nothing wrong with that as such, but in at least one instance the author falls for a bit of romance himself, and he's not the only one. Freeland said,

During the years preceding the early seventies, the National Education Association transformed itself from an association of professional educators into a labor union.

As one who was there, the National Education Association, founded in 1857, was never an association of professional educators in any meaningful sense. For the first 100 years of its existence, the great majority of teachers did not belong to the NEA. The teachers who did join prior to the 1950s had no meaningful role, rarely rising to any position of leadership. Even in the 1950s, when in Pennsylvania the state presidency began alternating between a teacher and an administrator, the position was still a one-year, unpaid position with little influence. When the man who was the Executive Director from 1939-1963 retired, he was hailed as "Mr. PSEA." Not one of the presidents who served under him--and they were under him--received such accolades.

A third, minor but glaring error, was a reference to Tracey Bailey, who was the 1993 National Teacher of the Year and former AFT member, but now a critic of unions and their political nature. All true, but then Freeland adds, "She (sic) calls them 'special interests protecting the status quo' and pillars of 'a system that too often rewards mediocrity and incompetence.'" Also true, except Tracey Bailey is not a "she."

Finally, there are a few possible contradictions.

At one point Freeland suggests, "Over time, Indiana's one-deal-fits-all, interchangeable parts system (a true factory analogy) is likely to result in a dumbing down of the teacher population." Shortly thereafter he issues the disclaimer that, "This report does not assert that all, or even most, Indiana public school teachers are poor teachers." Well now, which is it? The state's nearly 30-year-old bargaining law "likely" causes a dumbing down of teachers, yet most are not poor teachers.

Then he cites a professor of economics as saying, "The problem of teacher shortages ... begins in college. There, because education courses are notoriously easy, the worst students end up in the colleges of education." Notoriously easy courses might, and probably do, attract the worst teachers, but easy courses should also attract more than enough teachers to avoid any shortage. And, incidentally, there hasn't been a shortage of teachers in the United States, including in the 1960s when one seemed to exist. Even then there was a large supply of certified teachers. The shortage occurred because so many had no wish to actually teach.


Having said all that, Freeland's report deserves as much attention and discussion as it can get. At the very least it should generate discussion. At its best it could help bring about desired changes.

*Charles Freeland is an attorney in Indianapolis, Indiana, and an adjunct scholar at the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Public Education Without Romance: The Impact of Collective Bargaining on Indiana Schools, was published by the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Web site:

**David Kirkpatrick is an education consultant from Douglassville, PA, who was a career educator and teacher union member beginning in 1964

The PTA, the NEA, and Education by Charlene K. Haar*

Teachers' unions, federal agencies, special interest groups -- when we talk about the power structure of our education system, we sometimes forget to include parents. At the National PTA, we are committed to putting parents back into the educational power equation, and we've been taking some steps to do so.1


-- Grace Baisinger, President, National Congress of Parents and Teachers, 1979

*Charlene K. Haar granted permission to reproduce this part (Chapter 5) of her recently published book, titled, The Politics of the PTA (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2002), in the Review.


I. Introduction


As an adjunct of the public schools since the 1920s, the National PTA adopted an agenda shaped by school administrators at the local level and by the NEA at the federal level. This framework prevailed until the 1960s, when unionization of the NEA led to the expulsion of administrators from the association. Changes in the NEA resulted in basic changes in the PTA that have continued to this day, but have not been widely recognized. Although the formal relationship between the two organizations has remained constant, virtually every aspect of the PTA has been and is deeply affected by the unionization of the NEA.


II. PTA/NEA Relationships: Phase I


In 1919, the steadfast financial support for the National Congress provided by Phoebe Apperson Hearst ended with her death. Without her support, the National Congress could not raise enough money to keep the thirty-two-room mansion on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C. as a permanent headquarters. The building, which had been used as a service club for enlisted men during World War I, was sold in the summer of 1920. After the sale, the National Congress of Parent-Teacher Associations, already closely allied with the NEA, moved its offices into the NEA's Washington headquarters. Despite membership of over 180,000, the executive secretary was the only employee of the National Congress.

As more Americans moved away from farms to towns and cities, secondary-school enrollment rose from 1,115,000 in 1910 to 2,500,000 in 1920, and to 4,812,000 in 1930.2 These increases resulted jointly from immigration, increases in the native population, the enactment of compulsory education laws, and more vigorous enforcement of such laws. The increases also resulted in a major policy dilemma. During the early 1900s, high schools were primarily college preparatory institutions. As their enrollments increased, high schools were enrolling increasing numbers of students who did not plan to enroll in college and were not interested in a college preparatory curriculum. To resolve the dilemmas over the objectives of secondary education, the National Congress accepted the NEA's lead.

The Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education

The NEA was founded in 1857 as a national organization of college presidents and school superintendents, almost all of whom were men. Women teachers were not allowed to become NEA members until 1866. Unlike the National Congress, the early NEA had only three appointed committees; their tasks were to recommend a course of study for high schools, prepare an ideal program for the education of youth, and provide annual reports of staff qualifications and compensation, student enrollment, and library resources.3 By the 1890s, the NEA was creating a national agenda via its issuance of reports, through which the NEA impacted public opinion on educational issues.

In 1918, in response to the tremendous increases in secondary-school attendance, an NEA committee issued a report which contrasted sharply with an 1893 study that had recommended that all secondary students study English, foreign languages, mathematics, history, and science. That study, chaired by Harvard University President Charles Eliot, was promptly criticized for allegedly assuming that secondary schools should be primarily college preparatory institutions. In contrast, the new report, Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education, recommended a much more diversified curriculum emphasizing the importance of educating "the whole student," thus departing from the previous emphasis on academics.4According to Cardinal Principles, the goals of U.S. education should be health and safety; worthy home membership; mastery of the tools, technique, and spirit of learning; citizenship and world goodwill; vocational and economic effectiveness; wise use of leisure; and ethical character. This NEA report was destined to become one of the most influential statements on education in American history.

The National Congress, referred to as the PTA after 1924, formally adopted the NEA's Cardinal Principles in 1927 to "give suggestions for legislative effort and programs of work to state PTA branches and local associations."5 Adopting Cardinal Principles did not mean that the National PTA would cut back on its involvement in noneducational programs; for that matter, Cardinal Principles was never confined to secondary education, or even to educational issues concerning kindergarten through twelfth grade.

There is no doubt that Cardinal Principles was very influential; the problem lies in assessing the influence of the various principles it advocated. Long before the PTA had officially adopted Cardinal Principles, it had supported activities and programs that embodied the principles. Cardinal Principleslegitimized the goals that the PTA had previously encouraged local school districts to adopt.

Elsewhere, however, Cardinal Principles played a more substantive role, especially as the goals of secondary education became more controversial in the 1920s and thereafter. As secondary-school enrollments increased to unprecedented levels, new issues emerged. Was it fair for public schools to provide college preparatory programs for a small minority of students while ignoring the needs of the large majority of students who did not plan to seek a college education after high school graduation? Should lower-income families be required to subsidize higher education for students from higher-income groups? Cardinal Principles was instrumental in raising such issues, as well as in providing a respected authority for anyone who already shared the point of view it expressed.

Today, conservatives criticize the public schools for offering a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all curriculum. Actually, it was the public school establishment that emphasized meeting "the needs and interests" of students in the 1920s, and it was this establishment that was responsible for breaking away from the rigid secondary-school curricula that had prevailed in the early 1900s. Today, the main issue is still with us; what subjects, if any, should all students be required to study in order to preserve prosperity and cohesiveness in a highly diverse society? Unfortunately, there is no consensus on the answer to this question, and none appears to be in sight.

On other curriculum issues, also, the PTA was guided by Cardinal Principles. For example, Cardinal Principles asserted that "[t]he purpose of democracy is so to organize society that each member may develop his personality primarily through activities designed for the well-being of fellow members and of society as a whole."6 The NEA/PTA concept of citizenship reflected this fuzzy collectivism, in which citizenship as social cooperation and working for the public good predominated, instead of citizenship as political rights and individual responsibilities.

Legislation versus Parental Concerns

Although it turned its education policy over to the guidance of professionals in the NEA, the PTA nevertheless continued its standing committee on education. However, the committee now focused its attention on issues of concern primarily to career teachers, such as teacher salaries, retirement and tenure policies, the status of teaching as a profession, and (as before) federal aid for education. Obviously, none of these items was very helpful to parents interested in improving the education of their own children, but all of these issues deeply concerned the NEA.

A report at the 1926 PTA convention reflects the NEA's strong influence on the PTA. The National PTA vice president, charged with promoting "school education," reported that "[t]he Committee on School Education receiving through its chairman all of the educational forces of the N.E.A. has concentrated on the new Education Bill."7 As an illustration, the education chairman reported that from April 1925 to April 1926, the PTA had sent out 18,427 leaflets supporting the establishment of a federal department of education. Coordination of these activities between the PTA and the NEA was facilitated by the fact that Charl Ormond Williams, the National PTA vice president, was also the director of field service for the NEA. Several times during the year, Williams requested that PTA leaders and members write to their congressmen urging the passage of the bill. The education chairman readily acknowledged that "the aim of the school education committee is really closely related to the work of the PTA's committee on legislation."8

Four other areas of education were included in the PTA's agenda; humane education, illiteracy, music, and art. The PTA's humane education committee fostered benevolent attitudes toward pets and other animals. The PTA suggested that its members write articles for magazines on topics such as "Children's Attitude Toward Their Pets." The PTA also endorsed other efforts to achieve a better world for pets, including education against rodeo shows, sponsorship of poster contests, and a general observance of Be-Kind-to-Animals Week.

Alarmed over the fact that literacy rates in Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland greatly exceeded that of the United States, the National PTA's chairman of the illiteracy committee took on the task of raising "Uncle Sam from the tenth place in the scale of literate and enlightened nations."9Following up on the NEA's Adult Education Conference, PTA officials worked with state superintendents and state and local PTA presidents to recruit teachers for evening classes for adult illiterates in rural school districts. When possible, the PTA cooperated with other organizations to secure home teachers to teach English to foreign-born women. Support was enlisted from the American Legion, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Colonial Dames. The PTA set a goal of eliminating adult illiteracy before the 1930 census, declaring it shameful that the "cross mark is still being written on court records, marriage licenses, deeds, etc."10

The PTA also encouraged the study of music and art in all schools. Each local PTA was urged to provide music on loan, programs on the significance of music, and even music lessons and music appreciation classes for adults. Many local affiliates sponsored a Mother's Musicale preceding Mother's Day. Local PTAs were also encouraged to survey "art conditions in the home, schools, evening art schools, libraries, museums, [and] city and community stores." Clearly, at that time, the PTA's education agenda was much less political than the NEA's, which emphasized the enactment of federal legislation, especially on funding for education.

Through the years, the National PTA and the NEA shared speakers, general programs, and award programs. As noted in a history of the PTA, "This cooperation with the National Education Association is carried down from the national to the state, district, and local levels.... [F]or example, the state president of the parent-teacher organization is made an ex officio member of the state education association. Similar relationships are maintained all down the line."11 State teachers' association affiliates sometimes granted the PTA free pages in their monthly magazines.12 In another example of cooperative relations, the state education associations often paid the expenses of National PTA officers who visited the state.

The PTA and School Administrators

At the local level, the support of school administrators was critical to both the NEA and the PTA. It was precisely because school administrators encouraged membership in the PTA and the NEA that both organizations expanded as they did. For example, in 1915, when the Cook County superintendent announced at the Illinois Teachers' Institute that his office "desires and will cooperate in the establishment of a Parent-Teacher association in every county school, and urges immediate affiliation with the Illinois Congress of Mothers and Parent-Teacher Associations," the teachers acted accordingly.13 In 1933, PTA leaders "held regular office hours in the [McLean County, Illinois] superintendent's office on Saturday afternoons to meet with the rural teachers."14 In certain areas, the NEA sought to require an effective PTA as a condition of school accreditation by the appropriate regional accrediting agencies, which served as a sort of "Good Housekeeping seal of approval" among educators.

The close relationship between the PTA and the NEA turned out to be invaluable after the stock market crash of 1929 resulted in severe financial problems for schools. As one of the most expensive government programs, schools were among the first public services to be cut, and the cuts were sometimes drastic. Supervisors were dismissed, the number of teachers and their salaries were reduced while class size increased, and extracurricular activities were often eliminated. Teachers in many systems went unpaid for months or were "paid in scrip or tax warrants which could be cashed only at a considerable discount."15 As the collection of school taxes dropped drastically, the NEA appointed a Commission on the Emergency in Education to help unpaid teachers and keep schools open. In addition, the commission urged federal support to assist school systems that depended heavily on local property taxes that were often in default during the Depression years.

The National PTA supported these efforts in various ways. It flooded lawmakers' desks with letters that insisted that public education must be adequately maintained despite decreased tax revenues. Occasionally, where schools were temporarily closed, local PTAs sponsored educational programs for children. Sometimes state and local PTAs joined with teacher organizations in mass meetings to promote special measures to help school districts in dire straits. As unpaid and underpaid teachers resigned from their school districts, the National PTA urged its members who were former teachers to help alleviate the teacher shortage. In some school districts, the PTAs coordinated the emergency programs intended to ameliorate the crisis in school revenues.

Meanwhile, the PTA itself experienced the debilitating effects of the Depression. From 1932 to 1934, membership in the National PTA decreased sharply, and bank failures and widespread unemployment forced many PTAs to disband. State PTAs everywhere were forced to curtail their activities, merge committees, and reduce committee expenses.16 Meetings were held less frequently, and some state conventions were suspended. Despite these organizational setbacks, however, the PTA continued its legislative efforts to increase state aid to public schools and raise teacher salaries. Desperation was evident in a National PTA resolution that called for an additional year of high school to ease the unemployment crisis.

After almost a decade of troublesome fluctuations, unemployment dropped appreciably in 1939 and was minimal, as the United States became "an arsenal of democracy" while fighting World War II. After the war, the PTA's new Four-Point Program resolved to strengthen school curricula, improve the health of the nation's children, promote world understanding through the United Nations, and expand lifelong education for parents. In 1946, the PTA also supported an NEA initiative relating to teacher training and certification. Efforts to attract more men to the profession of teaching were also a high PTA/NEA priority in the 1950s, but their joint efforts along this line did not have any appreciable effect on the gender composition of the teaching force, which remained almost 80 percent female.17

School consolidation was another PTA objective that originated with the NEA. Between 1940 and 1957, the number of school districts was reduced from 120,000 to 55,000.18 Consolidation eventually encountered widespread opposition, but before the trend ran its course, the number of school districts had been reduced to approximately 15,000. Proponents of consolidation had argued that the result would be more effective use of public funds, improved education for millions of children, and more equitable distribution of the tax base to support poorer districts. In particular, the California PTA cited its effort to reduce the number of school districts in California as among its significant activities. The opponents of consolidation contended that it would weaken the ties between parents and schools, and that taxpayers would be more reluctant to pay for schools that they could not observe. Of course, the opponents of consolidation were sometimes motivated by more practical considerations, such as having to travel farther to school or losing control over patronage.

From 1943 to 1957, the NEA and the PTA supported federal legislation that would have provided federal aid for the education of illiterates, Americanization programs for immigrants, the partial payment of teachers' salaries, and the establishment of a federal department of education. During this period, none of these proposals was enacted.

The Federal Government and the Curriculum

All of the PTA/NEA objectives were shattered by an event that took place far from the United States--or, for that matter, from any place on earth. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I--the first man-made satellite to orbit the earth. As Americans awakened to second place in the space race, schools were subjected to a barrage of criticism from all sides. Distinguished scholars such as James Bryant Conant, a former president of Harvard University, charged that state departments of education were little more than the "willing tools" of the interests of the state NEA affiliates.19 President Dwight D. Eisenhower urged PTAs to scrutinize school programs. Military officers like Vice Admiral Hyman Rickover argued that professional educators were bringing America to its knees before a superior Russian educational system.20 To remedy the deficiencies in science, mathematics, foreign languages, and vocational guidance, the federal government passed the National Defense Education Act of 1958 (NDEA)--the first major step by the federal government to directly influence the curricula in America's local schools. Although the PTA and the NEA had long supported increased federal funding for education, the NEA initially opposed the passage of the NDEA because the funds it granted were earmarked for mathematics, science, and other defense-related curricula, but could not be used for teacher salaries or buildings. Subsequently, however, both the PTA and the NEA supported the NDEA.

The NDEA was just the beginning. In the five years between 1962 and 1967, Congress passed almost thirty laws that pumped vast amounts of federal support into public education. Improving occupational training and retraining the nation's labor force and jobless illiterates were targeted goals of the Manpower Development and Training Act (1962). The Vocational Education Act (1963) enlarged high school and post-high school vocational education programs. The Economic Opportunity Act (1964) was part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's declaration of "war on poverty." Among various separate programs, it authorized youth and adult work-training programs for the poor, and a domestic peace corps known as VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). The Higher Education Act of 1965 authorized a student-loan program. Public Law 89-10, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, also signed by President Johnson, provided $1.2 billion for public elementary and high schools during the first year of enactment. The funds were (and still are) distributed to the states based on the numbers of children in low-income families, but the efficacy of the legislation has been mired in controversy.


III. PTA/NEA Relationships: Phase II


The PTA's relationship with the NEA can best be described as a partnership with two distinct phases. In the first phase, dating from the early 1900s, the NEA was controlled by school superintendents. Because school boards were supposed to be nonpartisan agencies, they typically lacked the means of generating political support for their programs. For this reason, school boards and superintendents (who were essentially appointees of nonpartisan elected school boards) sought PTA support to legitimize their programs and actions.

With nearly twelve million members in 1965, the PTA was more than ten times larger than the combined memberships of the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Despite its impressive membership, however, James D. Koerner, editor-in-chief of the Education Development Center in Newton, Massachusetts, criticized the PTA after his extensive study of public education in the 1960s:

[T]he American PTA is rarely anything more than a coffee-and-cookies organization based on vague good will and gullibility....

In a word, the local PTA does indeed have an influence on educational policy: by failing to be more than an administrative rubber stamp, it simply sustains the existing order....

Indeed the national PTA is a member in good standing of the 'Big Six,' a sort of behind-the-scenes association of three professional groups and three lay groups in education: The American Association of School Administrators, the National Education Association itself, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National School Boards Association, the National Association of State School Boards, and the National Congress of Parents and Teachers [the PTA]. Some people might look on the Big Six as something of an establishment creature, as an instrument for promoting establishment policy rather than as what it is alleged to be: an instrument for hard-headed debate and bargaining among broadly based interests about what American educational policies should be. However that may be, the three lay groups on the Big Six, the National PTA in particular, are no match for the three professional groups.21

Difficult as it may be to believe, Koerner's comments understated PTA subordination--hence, that of parents also--to the interests of the NEA. Although his prediction was accurate, at the time he could not have realized how the unionization of the NEA from 1964 to 1975 would affect NEA/PTA relations.

In the pre-unionization days, educational policy-making followed normal political procedures. Elected school boards met as legislative bodies to adopt, reject, or amend policies, including policies on the terms and conditions of employment for teachers. Teacher organizations and the PTA presented their points of view along with other interested parties. For better or for worse, school boards adopted the policies that they deemed appropriate. Insofar as the policies were budget related, they were largely settled until the next budget cycle. Granted, this is an oversimplified view, for present purposes, however, it sets forth the policy-making structure and procedures in the pre-unionization era accurately enough.

Despite Koerner's acerbic conclusions, local PTAs wielded considerable influence in middle- and upper-class school districts. Usually no other powerful interest groups were active in educational affairs. Local PTAs worked closely with school management, and for a good reason. Management had the power to run the district on a day-to-day basis. If a local PTA became interested in a particular program or activity, it had only to persuade the school administrators, who exercised broad discretion over the district budget and terms and conditions of teacher employment, to adopt the program or pursue the activity. Furthermore, although they lacked financial resources, local PTAs played a significant legitimizing role; their approval was valuable even though PTAs were not politically powerful in their own right. At the same time, the local teacher associations were largely social organizations. Except for presentations on school district budgets, the teacher associations welcomed new teachers at meetings and sponsored receptions for retiring teachers; typically, they were not a powerful force at the local level.

Unionization of the NEA

Teacher unionization drastically altered the political landscape. Many issues formerly resolved unilaterally by school boards after hearing anyone who wished to comment on them were resolved by collective bargaining with teacher unions--a process that excluded PTAs as well as others who wished to address the issues. Furthermore, teacher-union dues escalated to pay for union staff to negotiate contracts and process grievances. When negotiations were completed, usually for multiyear contracts, the union staff served as full-time political operatives, amply equipped with the facilities and campaign workers to be a formidable political force. Indeed, the emergence of teacher unions as a powerful political force at all levels is one of the most significant political developments in the United States since the 1960s.22

For practical purposes, the 1962 collective bargaining election in New York City marks the beginning of the collective bargaining movement in public education.23 After months of rancorous negotiations, including a one-day strike by twenty thousand New York City teachers, the New York City board of education and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT, an affiliate of the AFT and the AFL-CIO) negotiated a forty-page written agreement. In addition to a substantial pay raise for teaching and pay for extracurricular activities, the striking teachers demanded and received "free lunch periods, check-off for union dues, and one hundred and forty-seven other items dealing with work-place conditions."24

After losing the New York City representation election to the UFT, the NEA's executive director, William G. Carr, sounded the alarm. In an address to the 1962 NEA convention, Carr expressed an apocalyptic view about the threat of unionism: "This ... is the first time in which forces of significant scope and power are considering measures which could destroy the Association."25

Ironically, however, the NEA responded to the threat of unionism by becoming a union itself, albeit with nonunion terminology to maintain the pretense that it was not a union. For instance, the NEA embraced "professional negotiations," which turned out to be collective bargaining with a few cosmetic changes. Furthermore, the NEA contended that state educational boards, not state labor boards favored by the AFT, should administer the laws and regulations governing negotiations at the local level. Within a few years, however, all cosmetic differences of this sort between the NEA and the AFT positions disappeared, especially after the NEA realized that it could utilize collective bargaining to stifle the membership threat from the AFT. Both unions increased their membership dramatically under collective bargaining by enrolling teachers who had not previously been members of any union.

Prior to unionization, the NEA at the national level was not influential in political and legislative affairs because it could not provide much support for candidates for public office or for its preferred causes. Most local NEA affiliates had miniscule budgets and no full-time staff to provide grassroots support for the NEA's favored candidates and legislative agendas. These weaknesses disappeared when the NEA became a union; today, no other national organization has the power of the NEA to provide grassroots support for its candidates. According to a study by Myron Lieberman, the NEA's revenues at the local, state, and national levels exceeded $1 billion in 1996, and the association employs thousands of fulltime employees who are politically active at the state and local levels.26

Unionization changed the NEA in three fundamental ways. First, administrators left or were excluded from the association at all levels. Second, as a result of the departure of administrators, the NEA was not restrained by any management issues. Third, the NEA became a highly influential political force.

In theory, administrators represent both public and their own welfare interests. With the administrators no longer in the NEA, local NEA affiliates faced no internal opposition to bargaining for teacher benefits that would reduce the funds available for school maintenance, textbooks, or salaries for employees not covered by union contracts. While school management would normally consider these interests, collective bargaining endangers this outcome.

Under collective bargaining, school districts and unions bargain over "terms and conditions of employment." What this phrase means varies somewhat from state to state, but it usually covers salaries, benefits and other kinds of compensation, workday, length of the school year, transfers, workload, and a host of other matters that affect a district's resources and ability to initiate or change curricula or programs. Theoretically, school boards continue to be responsible for educational policy, but as people familiar with collective bargaining can attest, "terms and conditions of employment" and "educational policy" are frequently one and the same issue regarded from two different perspectives.

For example, suppose that parents in a local PTA want the school board to adopt a policy whereby the most experienced teachers (who are invariably also the highest-paid) are assigned to inner-city schools that are presently staffed largely by new teachers or substitutes. To parents, how to utilize teachers in order to maximize learning among the disadvantaged is an educational policy issue. The teacher unions, however, regard the issue in terms of transfers and assignments, that is, as "terms or conditions of employment," subject to negotiation between the union and the school district. In such negotiations, the unions almost invariably insist that transfers be voluntary and based upon seniority--the very same policies that created the problem to begin with. Even proposing the staffing change causes problems for the local PTA--teachers predictably support their union position and a potential boycott of the PTA may result in loss of dues and leadership. Furthermore, union members may retaliate against the parents who led the effort for the change in staffing policy.

In collective bargaining, third parties are rarely allowed to be present at the bargaining tables. As a result, there is no parental representation at the bargaining table, and parental political influence is miniscule compared to that of the teacher unions. Indeed, the unions are often directly responsible for the election of school board members who establish the board's bargaining position and vote to ratify or to reject a negotiated agreement.

Consequently, instead of presenting its views at open board meetings on an equal basis with the teacher organizations and other interested parties, the PTA can only express its views at contract ratification meetings, when the contract is, in effect, a fait accompli. Theoretically, the school district could keep the PTA informed on the progress of negotiations and receive its input on union positions, but the dynamics of bargaining preclude this outcome. Both union and management prefer not to have third parties involved precisely because their objections make it more difficult to reach agreement. Furthermore, if information about negotiations is provided to third parties, there is a danger of leaks and distortions that could upset negotiations. If the PTA were entitled to information about the progress of negotiations, other groups would clamor for the same privilege, and the requisite confidentiality would disappear altogether. If bargaining were to go on until the early morning hours, or around the clock, it would not be feasible to get parental input in the climactic stages of bargaining. Collective bargaining by teacher unions is not consistent with the open manner in which public policy should be made, but unfortunately, the legislatures that enacted the teacher bargaining statutes did not know or care about this inconsistency.

At the outset of the unionization of the NEA, local PTAs frequently found themselves in opposition to union demands: when this happened, relations at the local level deteriorated rapidly. The tensions between local PTAs and local NEA affiliates came to a head during teacher strikes. Parents were inconvenienced by teacher strikes and concerned about the impact of the strikes on their children's education. Also, they were concerned about the example being set, because most teacher strikes were (and still are) illegal. Pupil safety when school was not in session was another prevalent concern. Needless to say, the teacher unions characterized teacher strikes as a benefit to pupils. Unions urged parents to keep children at home for safety reasons, thereby putting more pressure on school boards to settle on union terms.

The PTA Opts for Neutrality

To help formulate its policy on teacher strikes and bargaining issues, the National PTA appointed a task force to recommend PTA policies on these matters. The task force elicited opinions from teacher unions, school boards, school administrators, and others. At its September 1968 meeting, after receiving the task force report, the national board of directors adopted policies on the role of the PTA in teacher strikes. The board first identified several "dilemmas" that teacher strikes and negotiations posed for local PTA members.

1. If the PTA provides volunteers to man the classrooms during a work stoppage, in the interest of protecting the immediate safety and welfare of children, it is branded as a strike breaker.

2. If the PTA does not take sides in issues being negotiated, it is accused of not being interested.

3. If it supports the positions of the board of education, which is the representative of the public in negotiations, the teacher members of the PTA have threatened to withdraw membership and boycott the local PTA activities. (emphasis added)27

To resolve these dilemmas, the PTA adopted guidelines covering the pre-strike period, the period during the strike, and the aftermath of the strike. Prior to the threat of a strike, PTA members are urged to keep the lines of communication open, and to seek action to remedy the causes of increased teacher complaints. If a strike occurs, PTA members may encourage action to protect children and to keep teachers involved in the PTA, but should not volunteer to help in ways that assist the administration in keeping the school open. When a strike is over, the PTA is encouraged to seek community support to ensure that implementation of the negotiated strike agreement continues. The PTA's guidelines emphasize that a local PTA should resist all activities that might be considered "taking sides" in a teacher strike: instead, it should encourage a public airing of the issues and let the school board and teacher union settle their dispute.28

Despite the fact that national policy called for neutrality, PTA/union conflict at the local and state levels continued to erupt. As additional states enacted teacher bargaining statutes, the conflicts emerged all over again at the legislative as well as the local level. The question of whether the PTA would represent parental or union interests surfaced in many ways: the experience in Ohio foreshadowed the eventual outcome nationally. According to an analysis of the conflict there:

[T]he state PTA and the powerful Ohio Education Association [OEA], an NEA affiliate, came to blows over three bills in the state legislature. Two of these involved teacher certification, training and dismissal; the third was a strong professional negotiations bill that included binding arbitration. The state PTA actively--and successfully--opposed several of OEA's legislative proposals in these areas, and that was when OEA apparently decided enough was enough. At its 1976 state convention, OEA adopted a resolution asking its 85,000 teachers to drop out of the PTA, to boycott all its activities, and to encourage parents to form new parent-teacher organizations that are not affiliated with the PTA. Of the 217,000 members who quit the PTA in 1976, more than 50,000 were from Ohio, where entire units disaffillated.29

Robert Lucas, president of the Ohio PTA, described the change in teacher union attitudes toward PTAs after the PTA challenged the teacher unions:

For years we did everything the teacher association wanted and we never disagreed about anything. We gave out certificates, awarded the principal a seat of honor and carried all the tax levies, and we were the nicest guys in the world. Now that we're beginning to deal with real issues, they have a different opinion of us.30

Although parents and the teacher unions disagreed about several issues, teacher strikes precipitated the crises that forced a resolution of the conflict. Despite the fact that strikes by public employees are prohibited by statute or judicial decision in most states, the incidence of teacher strikes increased dramatically after the teacher bargaining statutes were enacted. Actually, the number of strikes does not convey the magnitude of the problem: for every actual strike, there were scores of threatened strikes that led to turmoil in school districts. Needless to say, opinions about teacher strikes varied widely, but teachers and their unions certainly viewed them as more benign than did parents. The unions were sometimes successful in recruiting parents to their cause, but most parents were more concerned about the disruption to their own lives and their children's education than about the strike issues.

Ultimately, however, the outcome was virtually preordained. With miniscule funds, a highly transient membership, heavy dependence upon teacher support just to remain viable, and intimidation by teacher boycotts, the National PTA raised the white flag again in 1987. The board of PTA officers affirmed the 1968 board's neutrality position with only a few editorial changes. Neither the elected officers nor the PTA bureaucracy was willing to risk an organizational meltdown that might have resulted from a declaration of independence from the NEA. Neutrality marked the end of the PTA's independence because it prohibited the PTA from adopting positions that were opposed by the teacher unions.

In its defense, the PTA contends that its neutrality policy applies only to strikes. A fair reading of the policy in conjunction with its aftermath, however, demonstrates clearly that the defense is fallacious. For example, the National PTA policy advises local PTAs on what they should do in the "prestrike" period, as if PTA members could know beforehand that a strike would materialize. All the teacher union would have to do in order to neutralize the PTA would be to set a strike date, regardless of whether it actually planned to strike. Furthermore, if the PTA policy is applicable only to strikes, the PTA would have to explain why its affiliates are not involved in bargaining issues that are vital to parents and their children.

To appreciate the implications of PTA neutrality in teacher bargaining, one must consider what its guidelines recommend--and also what they do not mention. The guidelines include eighteen recommendations that either imply or suggest that strikes are justified, or ensure PTA support of union positions during a strike. The possibility that a teacher strike might be due to unreasonable union demands is never suggested, even implicitly. On the contrary, by urging PTAs to "seek action that corrects the basic cause of dissatisfaction," the resolution is clearly biased in favor of the union. "Teacher dissatisfaction" is not always justified, nor does it always merit PTA intervention. In fact, dissatisfaction is frequently fomented by the unions to cause more pressure on school boards to make concessions. The repeated support for "negotiations" implies that the school boards have not fully met their obligations to bargain in good faith before the strike. PTA guidelines do not mention the fact that when school boards do not bargain in good faith, the teacher unions have adequate remedies, such as filing unfair labor practice charges with state labor boards. The guidelines also recommend that PTAs make sure that negotiated agreements are "faithfully implemented." This ignores the fact that unions are the parties who cite contract violations, and that unions have ample legal remedies and resources to ensure that contracts are "faithfully implemented."

The omissions in PTA policy are an even more telling sign of PTA capitulation to the NEA. Significantly, PTA policy does not address parental concerns over items on which school boards are required to bargain (mandatory subjects of bargaining). One would expect several of these items to be high-priority issues in any organization dedicated to promoting parental and pupil interests:

What are teacher responsibilities to help pupils outside of regular class hours?

How long do teachers remain in school after class to assist pupils and/or confer with parents?

Are there adequate procedures to resolve student/parent grievances against teachers?

Is there any appeal from teacher grades, or negative recommendations to employers and institutions of higher education?

Do teacher contracts provide adequate opportunities for parents to confer with teachers? For example, if parents work during regular school hours, are there opportunities to meet with parents at some other time during the day?

Do pupil report cards convey adequate information about pupil progress?

What is the impact of teacher seniority on continuity of instruction and teacher/pupil relationships?

What criteria are included in teacher evaluations?

What is the district policy on teacher tenure?

Do district teachers have the qualifications to teach the grade(s) and subject(s) assigned?

How does the district deal with a negative teacher evaluation?

What is the percentage of teachers who have received unfavorable evaluations in the past 2-3 years?31

Surely, an organization that represents parents and students should have positions on such issues, and strive to have them adopted. Nevertheless, as a result of the PTA's "neutrality," local PTAs do not address these issues, or any others that might lead to conflict with the teacher unions. In contrast, the teacher unions aggressively bargain for their positions on all such issues. Despite the NEA's professed concern for parents and pupils, association proposals would often severely disadvantage both, to say the least. For instance, the teacher unions typically propose the following:

No student grade may be changed without the consent of the teacher. Obviously, this assumes that teachers always recognize and agree to correct their mistakes.

Teachers cannot be required to return in the evening or on weekends for parent conferences; if they do return voluntarily, they must be paid generously.

Parent complaints cannot be considered as a basis for disciplinary action unless the complaint is in writing and the teacher has had time off with pay to prepare a response.

If a parent has a complaint, the teacher has the right to have a union representative present when the complainant faces the teacher.

Parents who are not literate in English, such as many itinerant farm workers, are practically helpless in districts that accept such union proposals: even sophisticated parents are often deterred from pursuing their grievances against such union-imposed obstacles.


IV. The Aftermath of the Takeover


Although neutral on bargaining issues at the local level, the PTA is invariably supportive on other issues of importance to the NEA. It might be a stretch to assert that the NEA dictates PTA policy; it would not be a stretch, however, to assert that the NEA exercises a veto power over PTA policy on any issue that affects the NEA. PTA members often are not aware of this fact because overt coercion is no longer evident. PTA members and officials often bristle at the suggestion that the PTA is dominated by the teacher unions. If one thinks of domination only in terms of explicit union commands to the PTA, this reaction is understandable. In practice, however, NEA domination is pervasive. It shows up in the selection of speakers and convention programs, the issues that are raised and the ones shoved under the rug, the avoidance of union identification among delegates to PTA conventions, the immediate rejection at PTA conventions of any effort to reconsider union-backed positions, the similarity between PTA and union legislative agendas, and the PTA's leadership in union-funded coalitions.

Even if "shared views" explains the PTA's alignment with NEA positions, it does not explain the complete absence of attention to union policies detrimental to parental concerns at PTA meetings and conventions. Furthermore, by its own admission, the PTA has never disagreed with the NEA on any significant issue.32

Myron Lieberman's experience at the 1997 National PTA convention illustrates the NEA's low profile but heavy hand in PTA affairs. The PTA convention program listed workshops and showed only the name and city of each discussion leader, not his or her occupation. Lieberman, the author of several books and articles on teacher unions, attended one of the workshop sessions devoted to privatization issues. The discussion leader at the session was so skillful in presenting NEA positions without labeling them as such that Lieberman sought to identify the individual. After the session, Lieberman complimented the discussion leader and asked about his occupation. The first answer was: "I work for an educational organization." On further questioning, the discussion leader reluctantly revealed that he was a UniServ director employed by the Iowa Education Association. "UniServ director" is NEA-speak for union business agent and political operative. Lieberman was probably the only individual present at the session who realized that the discussion leader was a full-time NEA employee. The other delegates attending the session did not feel coerced, for they weren't: they were, however, exposed to only one side of highly controversial issues by someone purporting to be just an interested parent. This situation is commonplace at state and National PTA conventions: the union presence is pervasive but not usually apparent to convention delegates. Inasmuch as the divisive union/parent issues are not raised, delegates are not aware of any coercion.

The PTA has internalized its subordinate role: new members simply take for granted that the PTA is a support group for teachers. Supposedly, pupils will benefit as a result of PTA activities. Unfortunately, what the unions seek for teachers is not always good for students; hence, the PTA's neutrality is a major strategic victory for the NEA. When local PTAs do on occasion actively oppose a union position while the union is engaged in collective bargaining, the NEA does not hesitate to remind the PTA that its only option is to remain silent. For example, in April 1994, at the urging of its executive committee, NEA President Keith Geiger wrote to the president of the National PTA after the relationship between the NEA and a local PTA did not improve following settlement of a bitter contract dispute. Geiger "emphasized the long-standing tradition of cooperation and respect between the two organizations at the national level and asked the PTA president to remind its local affiliate of the National PTA's policy of neutrality in labor/management disputes in school districts."33

Perhaps the strongest argument against the thesis that the union dominates the PTA is that the PTA's leadership shares the NEA's educational and political views; there is no need to dominate an organization that willingly supports your positions. Nevertheless, this convergence argument clearly is not applicable to the PTA's policies on bargaining and privatization issues. On these issues, the record is clear that the PTA's neutrality is a direct result of the NEA's threats in the 1960s to withdraw its support and launch a new parent organization unless local PTAs stopped supporting school management in bargaining disputes. Because local PTAs are bound by national policy, the PTAs neutrality in collective bargaining has removed local PTAs as players on the local school issues that matter most to parents.




1. Grace Baisinger, "The National PTA: New Power on the Block," National Elementary Principal, March 1979, 76.

2. Lawrence A. Cremin, American Education: The Metropolitan Experience, 1876-1980 (New York: Harper and Row, 1988), 311.

3. Allan M. West, The National Education Association: The Power Base for Education (New York: Free Press, 1980), 7.

4. Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education of the NEA, Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education (Washington, DC: U.S. Bureau of Education, 1918).

5. National Congress of Parents and Teachers, Proceedings of the Thirty-First Annual Convention of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers(Washington, DC: National Congress of Parents and Teachers, 1927), 311.

6. Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education of the PTA, Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education, 35.

7. National Congress of Parents and Teachers, Proceedings of the Thirtieth Annual Convention of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers(Washington, DC: National Congress of Parents and Teachers, 1926), 96.

8. Ibid., 113.

9. Ibid., 99.

10. Ibid., 102.

11. National Congress of Parents and Teachers, The Parent-Teacher Organization (Chicago: National Congress of Parents and Teachers, 1947), 51.

12. See, for example, the list of accomplishments in G. G. Koenig, "State President Reports--South Dakota," in National Congress of Parents and Teachers, Proceedings of the Thirtieth Annual Convention, 293. See also Alabama Branch of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, Year Book 1928-1929 (Birmingham, AL: State Board of Education, 1929), 17; Naomi Adams Whitesell and Louise Eleanor Ross Kleinhenz, The First Fifty Years of the Indiana Congress of Parents and Teachers, Inc.(Indianapolis, IN: Indiana Congress of Parents and Teachers, 1962), 44, 81, 83-85, 88; Thad Stem, Jr., PTA Impact: 50 Years in North Carolina,1919-1969 (Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Congress of Parents and Teachers, 1969), 63, 67; and Dorothy Sparks, Strong is the Current: History of the Illinois Congress of Parents and Teachers, 1900-1947(Chicago: Illinois Congress of Parents and Teachers, 1948), 11, 37-40, 58-59, 131-32, 139, 235-36.

13. Sparks, Strong is the Current, 37.

14. Ibid., 38.

15. Ibid., 136.

16. Ibid., 126.

17. Cremin, American Education, 554.

18. West, The National Education Association, 29-30.

19. James Bryant Conant, Shaping Educational Policy (New York: McGraw-Hill), 1964, 37-38.

20. Joel Spring, "The Evolving Political Structure of American Schooling," in Robert B. Everhart, ed., The Public School Monopoly: A Critical Analysis of Education and the State in American Society (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1982), 97.

21. James D. Koerner, Who Controls American Education? A Guide for Laymen (Boston: Beacon, 1968), 147-49.

22. Clive S. Thomas, "Understanding Interest Groups in Midwestern Politics," in Ronald J. Hrebenar and Clive S. Thomas, eds., Interest Group Politics in the Midwestern States (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1993), 13-14.

23. For a detailed account of the emergence of teacher bargaining, see Myron Lieberman and Michael H. Moskow, Collective Negotiations for Teachers (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1966).

24. Ibid., 35.

25. West, The National Education Association, 64.

26. Myron Lieberman, The Teacher Unions (New York: Free Press, 1997), 124-46, 170.

27. National PTA, "Teacher Negotiations, Sanctions, and Strikes," in National PTA, National PTA Resolutions and Positions (Chicago: National PTA, 1995), IV.3B.

28. See ibid. for the text of the PTA's guidelines. The National PTA Board reaffirmed its position statement on "Teacher Negotiations, Sanctions, and Strikes" in 1987.

29. Rose Marie Scott-Blair, "The Changing PTA: No More Tea & Cookies and -- Maybe - No More 'T,'" Learning Magazine, January 1978, 68.

30. Ibid., 69.

31. Charlene K. Haar, "The Teachers' Unions," Crisis in Education,February 1998, 39-40.

32. Lieberman, The Teacher Unions, 225.

33. See National Education Association, Reports on Implementation of Actions of the 1993 Representative Assembly of the National Education Association (Washington, DC: National Education Association, 1994), 52.