As school opens many teacher union locals will be selecting (or electing, as we did) their bargaining committees and preparing to sit down with their boards of education. And they are planning their collective bargaining strategies.
In spite of Janus, unions in districts in the shrinking number of states that have collective bargaining rights, will continue to bargain agreements that focus on salaries, benefits, working, teaching and learning conditions.
However, even in states like Illinois, which have formal collective bargaining rights, this has become more difficult than ever.
For example, the Illinois legislature recently intervened directly in the collective bargaining process by capping pensionable salaries at 3%.
I call that “right-to-work creep.”
When I began teaching 35 years ago, teacher compensation was pretty good. Even then, choosing to be a teacher meant taking a financial hit. Those with the same education and training could expect to earn slightly less than those in the private sector.
Now that small financial hit of a 1.8% in 1985 has become a bomb. In 2017, the salary differential had reached a record 18.7%.
No wonder college grads are choosing to go into fields other than teaching. No wonder there is a growing teacher shortage.
Friends will point to benefits and a good (if constantly under threat) pension as the alternative to a competitive salary.
I don’t buy that. I never did.
When our local bargaining committee sat down with our board, the result would be a compensation package that was better on salary than it was in benefits. Some of our members would question this.
The report by the EPI shows that our bargaining policy of giving a priority to salary over benefits was correct.
Collective Bargaining Agreements across the country have moved compensation from salary increases to benefits. It has failed to limit the over all teaching pay penalty. In fact, it worsens the impact of the teaching pay penalty.
Only wages can be saved or spent on housing and food and other critical expenses.
Over the course of many contracts, we knew that salary compounds and that, unlike benefits, salary is harder to take back.
But there is this.
If we had national health care benefits wouldn’t even be much of a bargaining issue. Local school districts and local unions could focus again on offering competitive salaries that would again be attractive to those thinking about teaching.