Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Teachers Unions and the Law

Richard Bales at Workplace Prof Blog relayed this week a fascinating article by a labor law professor and an education professor looking at the roles that labor law and teachers unions can play at charter schools.

Charter schools, the authors argue, are supposed to be “high performance workplaces” that emphasize “flexibility, employee involvement, responsibility, accountability, and an incentive system of rewards.” Traditional public schools, on the other hand, tend to be workplaces organized on a “command and control system,” where “subordinates are not expected to think creatively but are instead confined to carrying out specifically and narrowly assigned tasks.”

So where do teachers unions come in? The authors argue that labor law “has channeled teacher unions away from risk sharing and toward insulating their members from the risks of the enterprise.” In other words, in the current legal climate teachers unions push workplaces towards “command and control” and away from “high performance.”

So the law promotes playing it safe instead of excellence. The problem with the vast majority of teachers unions, however, is that they oppose changing the law! Three examples:

  • Tenure: Unions would rather “protect” teachers from supposedly arbitrary administrators than support legislation that would make both teachers and administrators accountable for student learning
  • Merit pay: Paying teachers more for being better teachers would center more schools on “high performance” and break them out of the “command and control system” that unions claim to hate
  • Charter schools: Unions’ opposition to charters is widely known, even though these purport to be exactly the high-accountability, high-performance workplaces that truly professional teachers should thrive in
Categories: Teachers Unions