"Factory Model" Collective Bargaining Is Not Well Suited to Quality Education

Collective bargaining, with its roots in the industrial, mass-production sector of the economy, operates under a "factory model" of bargaining whereby unions focus on securing for their members contracts with uniform benefits, working conditions, and salaries.

The factory model, however, does not work well for individual professionals working in an educational setting. Teachers are not assembly line workers and their "product" is not mass-produced and interchangeable widgets, but individual, educated children.

Uniform treatment of employees under union contracts results in a loss of individual freedom, motivation, and productivity as the creative energy of teachers becomes diverted from the classroom toward union-related activities. The personal and individual interests of teachers are overridden by the factory model's emphasis on the interests of the group.52 In fact, the professional needs of the teacher are seldom properly addressed within the standard terms of a collective bargaining agreement.53 For example, consideration of individual teacher salaries and terms of employment separate and apart from what the union negotiates is forbidden. All teachers, no matter how they perform, are instead paid on the same salary schedule.

This uniform treatment of employees results in a loss of individual freedom, motivation, and productivity as the creative energy of teachers becomes diverted from the classroom toward union-related activities.54 Many quality teachers simply choose to leave their profession in favor of finding greater freedom to exercise their skills and abilities elsewhere.

A recent example in Saginaw highlights the factory model approach of emphasizing uniform rules and procedures over individual needs and talents. Louise Harrison, a finalist for Michigan Teacher of the Year in 1989-90 and Michigan's Creative Writing Teacher of the Year in 1992, requested a transfer to a different school within her district. The administration approved her request, but the local MEA affiliate blocked her transfer on the grounds that it violated seniority rules. Then-board member Ruth Braun noted with concern that the schools in Saginaw "can't override the union and put our best teachers in positions that are in the best interests of students."55

Another consequence of applying the factory model to education is the creation of an atmosphere of antagonism between school districts and employee unions. This antagonistic aspect was recently confirmed in at least one Michigan district when former Saginaw school board president Thomas S. Tilot stated, "Based on our last three negotiations, we spent a whole lot of time in adversarial negotiations."56

Former AFT president Albert Shanker explained the adversarial relationship between unions and employers this way:

Union contracts represent some attempt to limit and curtail the powers of management.

. . . [t]he interest of unions, as long as you have a factory model, is in seeing to it that salaries are adequate and that they are not subject to some individual administrator who can use them politically or in a discriminatory way.57

The industrial or factory model of collective bargaining does not serve the students of unionized teachers well, either. As Seattle, Washington Superintendent John Stanford was quoted as saying, "We lost our way when we became more interested in the employment of adults than in the education of children."58 Even Albert Shanker conceded that, "Once you leave the factory model and start thinking about education, student outcomes, and accountability, there are ways to improve upon the present system."59

Scholarly research shows that effective schools are based on flexibility and individual autonomy.60 But collective bargaining in general, and the factory model in particular, focuses primarily on group interests and one-size-fits-all seniority, transfer, and salary schedule contract provisions, which are discussed more completely in Section 1 of Part II (page 21).

The factory model is detrimental to teachers and ultimately to the students who learn from them.