Is Quality Education a Forgotten Goal?
by Kelsey Winther
A teachers’ union, such as the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA), can be a helpful mechanism for employees to influence the terms of employment. Yet when this sort of union is given a monopoly over contract negotiation, both teachers and students suffer. In states with exclusive collective bargaining, as in Hawaii, a union is given the right to be the only body with whom the state can negotiate. This analysis considers the aspects of exclusive bargaining that hinder the efficiency and quality of Hawaii’s public education system.
The 2007-2009 Collective Bargaining Agreement agreed to by the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the state of Hawaii states that
The rights and privileges of the Association as the exclusive collective bargaining representative and the rights and privileges accorded to the Association in this Agreement shall not be granted or extended to any competing labor organization for the duration of this Agreement except as directed by the Hawaii Labor Relations Board, court decision or order, or applicable statute.
The artificially imposed monopoly prevents a competing bargaining agency from entering into agreements with the school district. This lack of an alternative means the district has very little control over the conditions imposed by employees. If a secondary union were formed, the state would have more leverage to choose which conditions it agrees to. Teachers could then choose between competing unions. Each would be doing their best to both provide good benefits to attract teachers and to come to reasonable agreements with the district. The result would be more choice for both teachers and schools.
The lack of competition is compounded by the prohibition of any private contract differing from the union agreement. An individual teacher cannot negotiate terms contrary to the union agreement, so no teacher is exempt from the control of the union.
Any individual contract between the Employer and an individual teacher shall be expressly made subject to and consistent with the terms of this Agreement. Except where contrary to law, this Agreement shall supersede any rules, regulations or practices of the Employer which shall be contrary to or inconsistent with this Agreement.
This means all teachers are bound to the specific details of the contract. The following are just a few examples:
- In no event shalt a flexible work day extend beyond 4:30 p.m.
- The Employer agrees to maintain the average statewide class size ratio of 26.15 to 1.
- Teachers shall not be required to teach more than 180 consecutive minutes without a break, lunch or recess.
- A break or recess of not less than 15 minutes in length shall be provided.
- Classroom teachers shall have 1 daily preparation period scheduled by the Employer during the teacher’s regular work day.
- A preparation period shall consist of a continuous block of time of not less than 40 minutes.
- Where present teaching schedules provide for 5 teaching assignments per day, no more than 25 teaching assignments shall be scheduled per week.
- 3 Personal Leave days may be taken in half-day increments. A request for a half-day Personal Leave day shall be granted provided the services of a substitute teacher, if needed, are secured by the teacher.
Such requirements clearly limit not only the freedom of the school but the freedom of the teacher. Even if both the school and the teacher agree to terms, if those terms are inconsistent with the contract such an agreement cannot be considered valid. This is a clear violation of the right of two parties to enter into a voluntary agreement. It prohibits negotiations that would be beneficial to both teachers and schools.
The harm of prohibiting individual contracts is evident when considering recent negotiations over furlough days. In an effort to prevent layoffs, HTSA drafted an agreement which was agreed to by the state for the period from July 2009 to June 2011. The agreement prohibited any tenured employees in Bargaining Unit 5 from being subject to layoffs, and proposed furlough days be implemented. In an effort to protect a few teachers, the union subjected all teachers to pay cuts through the furlough days. Absent the union monopoly, teachers could agree to a contract in their best interest. Experienced and quality teachers who are not in danger of being fired would not need to suffer a pay decrease. On the other hand, newer teachers or teachers with less than positive reviews might prefer to take a pay cut in order to keep their jobs. This decision would be solely theirs. Instead, no one was laid off but Hawaii got Furlough Fridays and 13,000 teachers took a 7.94 percent pay cut.
Exclusive union control limits the flexibility and the options available to the school district. In times when the budget is tight, like at present, schools will need to make cuts somewhere to get by. This becomes very difficult when class sizes cannot be increased, teachers cannot be laid off, and salaries are set. Consequently, students have fewer days of class, the potential of school closures is rising, and cuts are being made in other areas.
The effects of HSTA are not just limited to difficult times but show up in the everyday affairs of the school. Collective bargaining laws hamper flexibility and impede local decision making. The monopoly effect is significantly greater in Hawaii because the entire state is one school district. The state, acting as the sole school district, will agree to conditions in a contract without knowing what is in the best interest of the individual schools, teachers, or students.
Additionally, the presence of an exclusive union contract binds the Board of Education to take extra steps in its decision-making processes. This is evidenced in the following sections from the HSTA contract:
Consulting with union
The Board of Education or its designee(s) shall make every reasonable effort to consult and confer with representatives of the Association prior to effecting changes in any policy or regulation affecting bargaining unit employee relations.
All grievances must be heard
An individual teacher of the bargaining unit may present a grievance at any time to the Employer and have the grievance heard without intervention of the Association, provided that the Association is afforded the opportunity to be present at such conferences and that any adjustment made shall not be inconsistent with the terms of this agreement…
The parties shall share equally the fees and expenses of the mediator.
Class size committee
The [joint class size] committee shall consist of two (2) representatives appointed by the Employer and two (2) representatives appointed by the [Hawaii State Teachers] Association.
Limits Quality of Education
Finally, and most importantly, the presence of the union limits the quality of education. Contract provisions intended to decrease work for teachers and protect their jobs limit the ability of a school to ensure high-quality education. It is reasonable to assume a teacher would have to be accountable to his or her school. Yet the union contract states that a principal “cannot require teachers to submit lesson plans on a regular basis.” There is no easy way for a principal to monitor what is being taught or how fast a class is moving through material.
The contract also contains provisions limiting a school’s freedom to maintain information about a teacher. The agreement states:
“All derogatory materials in a teacher’s personnel file shall be destroyed after two (2) years, unless the Employer makes a determination of the current validity of such materials. If the Employer determines that the material is currently valid, it may remain in the file for another year and again reviewed. Any derogatory material more than five (5) years old shall be destroyed.”
In the current model, teachers are required to pay dues even if they do not wish to join the union. Meanwhile, teachers have little say over what the union advocates. Unions do not truly represent the interest of teachers. If more than one union were permitted, a group of teachers could join together to advance their interests without the resulting harm to education that the union has had. Without the current legal protections, all unions and negations would be voluntary. This arrangement gives freedom to both teachers and schools to choose what is best for them and best for the education of the students. In a freer labor situation, a school would not be forced to sign onto a contract containing provisions limiting its ability to ensure high-quality education. Eliminating union protections promotes the interest of schools, teachers, and students. It is the best way to shift the focus back to quality education and benefit all involved.
All citations from:
Agreement between the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the State of Hawaii Board of Education. July 1, 2007-June 30, 2009
Kelsey Winther is a former Summer Policy Fellow at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.