FROM AN ECONOMIC point of view, teacher unions are producers of representation services and teachers are consumers of such services. Since the emergence of teacher unionization in the 1960s, the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have monopolized the market for representation services. In the 34 states that require school boards to bargain collectively with teacher unions, the NEA and AFT currently share almost 100% of the market. The two unions operate under a no-compete agreement, thus dominating the right to represent teachers at the local level.
As is the case with monopolies generally, the NEA/AFT's has resulted in excessive costs and inferior services affecting millions of teachers and support personnel. In 2001, active teacher membership in the two unions was about 2,700,000 out of a potential 3,700,-000. Both the NEA and AFT organize non-teachers--such as custodians, school bus drivers, and cafeteria employees--hence my recommendations concerning "teachers" are equally applicable to all school district employees who have the right to bargain collectively. In 2001-02, combined NEA/AFT revenues (local, state, and national) probably exceeded $1,500,000,000, not including their political action committees (PACs), foundations, and special-purpose organizations.
Significantly, in the states that have not authorized teacher collective bargaining, there is real competition to represent teachers. For example, in three non-bargaining law states (Georgia, Missouri, and Texas), independent teacher organizations enroll more members than NEA or AFT affiliates. This demonstrates clearly that the state teacher bargaining laws have resulted in the NEA/AFT monopoly.
What must be done to introduce competition in states that require school boards to bargain collectively with teacher unions? One change that is essential is to allow for-profit and nonprofit entities of all types to compete with unions for the right to represent teachers in collective bargaining. Most people assume that teachers are free to choose a different union, or none if that is their preference. As a practical matter, however, real choice rarely exists. Defending the status quo are the NEA and AFT, with their huge revenues, over 6,000 full-time staff, the capacity to reach all teachers repeatedly in school or at home, and strong incentives to spend whatever it takes to win elections, growing out of the fact that losses jeopardize the jobs and welfare of union officers and staff. NEA/AFT locals also can call upon their state and/or national affiliates for assistance that the …