Collective Bargaining Fosters Numerous Conflicting Agendas

The collective bargaining process involves more than just the interests of school board members and teachers. Many special interests are often represented at the table, each with its own agenda and goals it wants to accomplish. The goals of these various interests are seldom the same.

The agendas on the union side, for example, may include the national union affiliate's agenda (NEA or AFT), the state union affiliate's agenda (MEA or MFT), the local union representative's agenda, the local bargaining unit agenda, and the bargaining team agenda. The school district, on the other hand, has the school board's agenda, the superintendent's agenda, and the administration's agenda to consider.

The presence of so many different agendas often leads to miscommunication and miscalculation. For example, some school boards hold the superintendent responsible for negotiations, but his agenda may not match the board's and, as a result, he may attempt to "buy labor peace" by agreeing to a contract which may not be in the best interest of the public or the students. Sometimes the superintendent and union negotiator exceed their authority during negotiations or give too little time for the board to properly review the terms they have negotiated. These are common ways that a school board finds itself stuck with a contract it did not necessarily agree to or want.

Teachers in some districts have attempted to alleviate these problems by separating from their state and national affiliate parent unions in favor of bargaining for themselves. These locally organized teacher unions have determined that collective bargaining fails when there is an imbalance of power at the negotiating table because one side, the union, is professionally trained while the other, the school board, is composed of community lay people. As the president of Frankenmuth's local teacher union has said, "Being independent allows us to be reasonable with people in the community who have as much at stake as we do."68