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CON: Collective bargaining could lead to strikes, divisiveness in schools

By KBell
Jan. 8, 2012 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated Jan. 7, 2012 at 7:08 p.m.


WHAT IS COLLECTIVE BARGAINING?

Collective bargaining is the process through which a labor union and an employer negotiate employment.

It often involves an agreement on things like wages, hours, benefits and working conditions.

Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, which gave workers the right to collectively bargain.

Texas prohibits public employees from entering into a collective bargaining agreement and prohibits public employees from striking.

Four other states, all in the Southeast, deny collective bargaining rights for public employees, while 35 states make collective bargaining mandatory when the majority of teachers are on board.

The rest of the states allow collective bargaining, but do not require it.

The Wisconsin protests that led to canceled classes is exactly the situation the Association of Texas Professional Educators wants to avoid.

That's why the educators association supports Texas' law that prevents teachers from collectively bargaining with employers.

The Texas educators association represents public school employees in several Crossroads districts, as well as about 70 in Victoria.

"We're not opposed to the rights of teachers, nor are we anti-union," educators association spokesperson Larry Comer said. Collective bargaining "often leads to work stoppages, and whenever that happens, whenever we lock the doors and teaching is halted, students are the real losers in that equation."

Even the threat of a teacher strike looming over a school can damage morale and, ultimately, student performance, Comer said.

The organization allows any public school employee - from a cook to principal to teacher - to join its ranks.

The educators association contends that schools function better when professionals are able to work together instead of having an "us versus them" mentality that collective bargaining can often create.

"It builds a wall between the teachers and administrators and those who choose to, say, not be part of a union," he said.

Texas is a "right to work" state, meaning nobody can be denied employment for joining or refusing to join a particular union.

"Maintaining 'the right to work' in the state of Texas is literally a fall-on-the-sword type of issue," Comer said. "We would literally spend our last dime to maintain that."

Though the educators association holds no legal power over the schools, Comer said, the organization advocates on behalf of teacher concerns by approaching districts with teacher concerns.

He believes the association is able to collaborate with schools successfully to improve student performance without any formal collective bargaining agreements.

Advocates for collective bargaining in Wisconsin often pointed to low SAT scores in the five states that do not allow collective bargaining. Students in those states - Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia - do tend to score lower on the SAT, but it's hard to blame the scores on a single factor.

"Poverty and other social issues may well be involved, so using collective bargaining as a cause for better scores doesn't make sense," Steve Trowbridge, an associate professor at UHV, said in an email. "Unions do not necessarily make students do better, but they certainly do not make them do worse."

Comer said Texas schools will prevail in the long run without collective bargaining.

"We think we're successful, again because our philosophy is one of collaboration. And those are not just hollow words. That's something our core membership believes in," he said.

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