“Factory Model” Bargaining Hinders Quality Education

James Gillette: "My experience is that collective bargaining seldom has much to do with quality education. That may have been the case in the earlier days of collective bargaining, but today it has evolved into primarily what is best for the union and to a slightly lesser degree, the employee."

Collective bargaining, with its roots in the industrial, mass-production sector of the economy, operates under a "factory model" of bargaining: One size fits all. In this system, 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 in an educational setting, as it places group needs over the needs and interests of a particular teacher.[xii]

In fact, the standard terms of a collective bargaining agreement seldom properly address an individual teacher’s professional needs.[187] For example, as previously noted, it is forbidden to consider individual teacher salaries and terms of employment apart from what the union negotiates. Such uniform treatment results in a loss of individual freedom, motivation and productivity as the teachers divert their creative energy away from the classroom and toward union-related activities.[188] Many quality teachers simply choose to leave their profession in favor of finding greater freedom to exercise their skills and abilities elsewhere.

Another consequence of the factory model is the creation of an atmosphere of antagonism between school districts and employee unions. The late 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."[189]

As noted by Howard Fuller and George Mitchell:

"Former NEA president Robert Chase once worried that ‘industrial-style, adversarial tactics’ conflicted with education reform. But he wasn’t speaking of the heated, intemperate comments and stern rhetoric that occasionally can be part of the process. He was referring to an almost relentlessly negative aura in discussions between management and union."[190]

The industrial or factory model of collective bargaining does not serve students. As the late Seattle, Wash., superintendent John Stanford noted, "We lost our way when we became more interested in the employment of adults than in the education of children."[191]

Scholarly research shows that effective schools are based on flexibility and individual autonomy.[192] But collective bargaining in general, and the factory model in particular, focuses primarily on group interests.

Jeff Steinport: "I believe that the current collective bargaining process is a serious hindrance to quality education. It is a secret process that puts up vast roadblocks to innovation, accountability and flexible management. Teachers should certainly have the right to collectively bargain, but the statutory and regulatory environment in Michigan makes a collaborative process very difficult. The entrenched union leadership interests are far more interested in maintaining the status quo than creating a dynamic education environment."

[xii] Whittemore-Prescott Public School Master Contract, 1994-1997, p. 1 provided, "As American culture becomes more urban and school systems grow in size, it is necessary that educational groups rather than individuals express conditions of employment."