Putting Students First: It's Time to Make the Collective Bargaining Process More Collaborative, So That the Educational Impact of Our Agreements Is as Important as the Financial Impact

By Ingram, Ruben L. | Leadership, May-June 2003 | Go to article overview

Putting Students First: It's Time to Make the Collective Bargaining Process More Collaborative, So That the Educational Impact of Our Agreements Is as Important as the Financial Impact


Ingram, Ruben L., Leadership


Just as the wizard created an illusion in order to enjoy power and influence in his kingdom of Oz, so has the collective bargaining process in California--and the nation--created a false environment in which schools are expected to provide high quality instruction and educational programs for our students.

Dorothy and her friends followed the yellow brick road in hope of finding solutions. In the end, the answers were not found at Oz, but rather in understanding their own values and worth.

Collaboration: The heart of learning

The employee unions in our state and school districts have a singular objective; that is, the enhancement of wages, hours and other terms of employment for their members. This is a legitimate role for them, and citizens should not he misled to believe that a few radio advertisements and ongoing legislative attempts to address classroom instruction are anything other than diversions from that main goal.

On the other side, management, as represented by the local boards of education and the negotiating teams of school districts, has often limited its objectives to securing a negotiated agreement that will minimize or eliminate work stoppages, prevent discontent on the part of union members and the public and bring "peace" to the work place. This goal is also legitimate, for without it effective teaching and learning cannot take place.

But these two goals, as practical as they may be, miss the heart of what it takes to have an effective school environment. The "house of cards" we know as Oz came apart when Dorothy and her friends finally recognized where their hearts were.

In teaching students, the heart of learning is collaboration and cooperation among all parties. Until we have parents, teachers, administrators and elected officials all seeking the same goals, we will have Oz.

An inappropriate bargaining model

How did we get to such an adversarial situation? It was not a tornado, but rather a legislative act. Senate Bill 160, the Educational Employment Relations Act, more commonly referred to as the Rodda Act, replaced the Winton Act in 1976. The EERA was the state's first comprehensive, private sector-like collective bargaining law. It moved employer-employee relations from a "meet and confer" professional approach to a hard-line, private sector model of negotiations.

The EERA was strongly influenced by the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 and the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. These acts were designed to resolve national labor disputes in mining, manufacturing and other commercial industries that, without resolution, would threaten the economic health of the nation.

This model was and continues to be highly inappropriate to public education because it creates adversaries of parties who need to be collaborative as they work successfully with students.

California schools today are focused on improving student achievement and equity. The rise in school reform measures such as charter schools and accountability should give the Legislature, parents and both unions and management pause to reconsider the wisdom of continuing to engage in adversarial bargaining that does not address the interests of the students, the instructional program or the quality of the work place.

To continue to settle contracts only on salaries and benefits vs. the term of the contract (how long the district will have labor peace) is extremely inefficient and ineffective in support of a public school system and for students and their learning opportunities.

If we are to "return to Kansas" with courage, heart and backbone, then we must overhaul the collective bargaining process and make it serve the educational program and goals of our schools, not the special interests of the unions, nor the political needs of the districts and the Legislature.

Will this be easy or Fast? Of course not. Will collective bargaining laws be repealed? …

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