School Union Monopolies Smother Parents’ Voices

For well over a year, union bosses in Virginia and the rest of the U.S. fought bitterly to block the reopening of schools shuttered at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. (Credit: Brinacor/Wikimedia Commons)

Big Labor Gets Veto Over Education Policy; Parents Don’t

Why was former Democrat Gov. Terry McAuliffe unexpectedly defeated by GOP businessman Glenn Youngkin in last fall’s contest to be the next chief executive of Virginia, a state that the Biden-Harris ticket had carried by 10 percentage points in 2020?

Several factors undoubtedly contributed to Mr. McAuliffe’s loss by a 50.6% to 48.6% margin. 

For example, his pledge to sign repeal of Virginia’s three quarters-of-a-century-old Right to Work law, even though a 2020 poll showed the Old Dominion’s voters favor keeping it on the books by more than a two-to-one margin, undoubtedly hurt him.

And political observers widely agree that mounting voter concerns about education policy were very important in determining the race’s outcome.

Parents of Schoolchildren Perceived Terry McAuliffe Wasn’t on Their Side

Mr. McAuliffe’s single greatest liability with regard to the education issue was clearly voters’ perception that, in all disputes pitting concerned parents and their kids against union bosses and union boss-backed school officials, he would invariably side with Big Labor and its friends.

Many education-focused voters were especially disturbed by how Mr. McAuliffe and other union-label Virginia Democrat politicians had recently colluded with teacher union bosses as they fought tooth and nail to block the reopening of schools shuttered at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Virginia public schools offered fewer days of in-person learning than their counterparts in 43 other states during the 2020-21 academic year. 

By then, compelling scientific evidence was already available showing COVID-19 posed less risk to kids’ health than does the seasonal flu and that schools are not significant vectors of COVID-19 transmission.

Standardized test scores in Virginia fell substantially during the school shutdowns that were unnecessarily prolonged by teacher union bosses and politicians aligned with them.  

The nails in the McAuliffe coffin may well have been his politically tone-deaf admission at the campaign’s final debate: “I don’t believe parents should be telling schools what they should teach” and his invitation to teacher union bigwig Randi Weingarten to speak on his behalf at an election eve rally.

The debate “gaffe” accurately reflected the candidate’s platform.

Under Monopoly Bargaining, Policy Changes Can’t Happen Over Big Labor Opposition

Had Mr. McAuliffe been elected governor, he was openly prepared to work hand-in-hand with union-label legislators in Richmond to grant parents of Virginia’s K-12-aged children even less say over public schools than they currently have.

Months before Election Day, McAuliffe-bankrolling government un-ion boss Lee Saunders was making his intentions clear. If things turned out as he planned on November 2, in 2022 he and his cohorts would ram through Richmond a rewrite of state labor law, making every teacher and other public-sector employee subject to union monopoly bargaining.

Mr. McAuliffe was fully on board. In a videotaped April interview, he pledged he would “get collective [monopoly] bargaining done” as governor.

By empowering union bosses to speak for all front-line educators — and to codetermine with education officials who are accountable to voters how K-12 schools compensate and manage their employees — mandatory monopoly-bargaining laws smother the voices of parents and other ordinary citizens.

In practice, they mean changes in education policy can’t happen over union officials’ opposition.

But they can and do happen without the consent of most parents.

National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix commented: 

“Putting monopoly bargaining power over teacher pay, benefits, and work rules in the hands of union officials results in a variety of ills that challenge public education.”

‘One-Size-Fits-All’ Pay Scales Hurt Teachers With Rare Skills, Low Seniority

“One especially egregious example,” added Mr. Mix, “is union bosses’ exercise of their monopoly-bargaining power to perpetuate ‘single salary’ schedules that hurt many teachers economically and diminish schools’ effectiveness. 

“Under such rigid, ‘one-size-fits-all’ pay scales, teachers qualified for hard-to-fill positions in subject areas such as calculus, chemistry, and English as a second language endure below-market pay.

“Many educators with less esoteric specialties who are exceptionally good at their jobs and/or low-seniority suffer the same fate.

“Other harmful policies routinely advanced by government union monopolists at the bargaining table include rules that make it extremely difficult to fire derelict teachers. 

“In some instances, school districts impaired by union monopoly bargaining have had to warehouse hundreds of teachers who could not be trusted in the classroom.”

Right to Work President Mark Mix: Granting monopoly bargaining power over teacher pay, benefits, and work rules to union officials results in a variety of ills that challenge public education.

Given the fact that union bosses regularly strive to obstruct school administrators from making sensible management decisions, it is not surprising that rigorous data analyses show that policies granting Big Labor monopoly- bargaining power over educators have a negative impact on school performance. 

For example, a 2018 paper coauthored by University of Texas (UT) economist Stan Liebowitz and UT research fellow Matthew Kelly found that union legal privileges, political clout, and other closely related factors have “a substantial and statistically negative relationship with student achievement.”

Moreover, Dr. Leibowitz and Mr. Kelly found that more extensive monopoly privileges and greater political power for teacher union bosses raise taxpayer expenditures on K-12 schools even as they lower educational outcomes.

“The spread of public-sector monopoly-bargaining laws to well over 30 states since the first such statute was adopted in 1959 is a major problem for American schoolchildren, parents and taxpayers,” said Mr. Mix.

“Unfortunately, so far, rolling back government union bosses’ special privileges has been a slow and arduous task.”

Arkansas Recently Banned Monopolistic Unions in Schools, Colleges, Courts

University of Texas economist Stan Liebowitz: Monopoly bargaining makes schools less effective and more costly. (Credit: Independent Institute)

Since 2011, several states, including Wisconsin, Indiana, Tennessee and Iowa, have adopted laws rolling back government union bosses’ monopoly-bargaining privileges, without completely eliminating them.

The National Right to Work’s position has consistently been that barring all forms of government-sector bargaining is the ideal means to level the playing field for taxpayers and independent-minded employees. 

But the Committee has again and again helped mobilize public support for successful efforts to curtail the scope of Big Labor monopoly privileges through its mail, email, and telecommunications activities. 

And just last year, the Committee lent its strong support to Arkansas’s S.B.341, a measure ultimately signed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) that prohibits Big Labor from seizing monopoly-bargaining control of public servants who work at schools, colleges, many state agencies, and courts.

Big Labor Shouldn’t Be Rewarded For Shuttered Schools

And currently, said Mr. Mix, the Committee’s legislative staff sees an opportunity to reinstate the ban on government-sector monopoly bargaining that was on the books in Virginia for many years until union-label politicians’ revocation of it took effect in 2021.

“Though incoming Gov. Glenn Youngkin has pledged to support repeal of union bosses’ privilege to be designated as the ‘exclusive’ voice on workplace matters for teachers and other civil servants, getting legislation that accomplishes this goal to his desk will be an uphill battle,” Mr. Mix acknowledged.

“But this is also a battle Right to Work members and other concerned citizens must fight.

“The fact is, if Virginia delegates and senators choose to allow the special-interest 2020 law empowering government union bosses to reign supreme over K-12 teachers and other civil servants to remain on the books, they will be rewarding Big Labor for shuttered schools and a host of other abuses. 

“With every seat in the state House of Delegates and Senate up for grabs again in 2023, is this something Richmond politicians really want to do?” 

This article was originally published in our monthly newsletter. Go here to access previous newsletter posts.

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