Mandatory Collective Bargaining Fosters 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 those of the national union (NEA, AFT, etc.), the state union affiliate (MEA, MFT, etc.), the local union representative, the local bargaining unit and the bargaining team. The school district, on the other hand, has to consider the agenda of the school board, the superintendent and the administration. The presence of so many agendas often leads to miscommunication and miscalculation.

For example, some school boards hold the superintendent responsible for negotiations, but his or her agenda may not match the board’s, and as a result, he or she may attempt to "buy labor peace" by agreeing to a contract which may not be in the best long-term interest of the public or the students. Sometimes the superintendent and union negotiator exceed their authority during negotiations or give too little time to 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.

Jeff Steinport: "Of course the collective bargaining process fosters conflicting agendas. The teachers union bargains on behalf of the teachers. The teachers’ interests cannot possibly always correlate with student interests. It should be no shock that student and union interests often conflict. It is when the process of union contract bargaining is private that the conflicting interests are hidden — so most people, including teachers, aren’t even aware of the trade-offs between the administration and the union when it comes to student interests."


Donald Wheaton: "It’s a very delicate balance at times, because the competing interests aren’t necessarily wrong in their pursuits. It’s just that, especially in collective bargaining in these difficult funding and financial times, you have to be extraordinarily careful to be fiscally prudent yet creative and always keeping at the forefront the educational needs of the students. Textbooks are not cheap, retirement costs and insurance costs keep going up, and salaries have to keep pace as best you can. Something will have to give at some point. You can only do across-the-board budget cuts so many times, and there comes a point where you can no longer combine administrative positions, because your administrators don’t have enough time to do the things they need to be able to do. It has only gotten more and more complicated, and you have to be infinitely more creative than you ever used to have to be."

Teachers can likewise find themselves at odds with their own unions. Teachers in some districts have attempted to alleviate these problems by separating from their state and national parent unions in favor of bargaining for themselves. These locally organized teacher unions have determined that collective bargaining can fail 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 observed, "Being independent allows us to be reasonable with people in the community who have as much at stake as we do." [205]