‘Strategic leverage’ underpins California Teachers Association bargaining goals

Jun 24, 2013 by

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The State Council of the California Teachers Association recently adopted collective bargaining goals for the upcoming 2013-14 school year.

The goals and their rationale make for interesting reading, particularly if you are an upper-level school district administrator and think you are negotiating a contract only with the people on the other side of the table.

To be sure, all local unions have some degree of independence and flexibility when it comes to collective bargaining, but the state union leaves little doubt about what it strongly urges its locals to do. The bargaining goals spell out these positions on the major education labor issues of the day.

With the passage last November of the statewide tax increase it supported, CTA believes its lean years are ending and that its affiliates should focus on restoring previous concessions. While noting that its members “suffered a loss of job security, wages, benefits and working conditions,” CTA seems even more concerned that the concessions “created a chasm between members and their leaders.”

The state union advises locals to meet their own situations and needs, “provided, however, that any such adaptation maintains consistency with the organization’s core values and the statewide bargaining goals.” CTA specifically addressed salaries, health care coverage, teacher evaluations and Common Core.

When it comes to a district’s financial picture, CTA recommends skepticism, telling locals to differentiate between the district’s wants and needs. In communications with members, the state union calls on locals “to reframe the issue and to counter the persistent `doomsday’ predictions that may be coming from the district and other external sources.”

“If salary comparability is low and the employer’s reserves are high and/or growing, then association leaders and bargaining teams should continue to organize for increased compensation regardless of the external economic factors,” the goals state. Whatever the local does, its approach to compensation “must always seek to build the union and its organizational capacity.”

CTA’s stance on charter schools is well-documented, but this context lends some additional perspective to the union’s motivations. CTA states, “Charter schools, if unorganized and/or paid at levels below comparable public schools’ salary levels, will erode salary standards and local associations’ bargaining power. It is important for locals to determine if they wish to represent the employees of charter schools within their district in order to maintain a high level of compensation and mitigate the erosion of working conditions.”

Differing health care coverage needs among members are also sacrificed on the altar of union solidarity. CTA warns that the “marketing of high deductible health plans along with Health Savings Accounts cause more divisions within the bargaining unit, as the higher paid or younger/healthier members consider such plans to save money for themselves while causing more adverse selection and higher premiums for those who remain in the regular health plans.”

Making some individuals pay more so that others can pay less may be a standard union procedure, but what about those who don’t want to go along? CTA advises, “Prohibiting opt-outs should be the first choice in bargaining to protect the integrity of the risk pool. If that is not achievable then local associations should bargain that districts shall be required to make health care premium contributions for all unit members even if they opt out of coverage so that there is no financial incentives for districts when members opt out.”

In CTA’s mind, local control is a wonderful thing, as long as all locals do the same thing. “Inconsistency of positions on health care among local associations continues to undermine our statewide strategic leverage.”

It would be wise of school district officials to determine if a local union’s demand at the bargaining table is designed to improve the teachers’ working environment or the union’s statewide strategic leverage. It might make a great deal of difference in how to proceed.

CTA recognizes that “the political pressure to change compensation and evaluation systems to take into account student test scores will continue to grow.” It suggests locals check with CTA before agreeing to any changes in the use of student growth for evaluations in the School Improvement Grant program.

Finally, you can bury yourself in analysis of Common Core these days, but you’ll find precious little about the collective bargaining aspects. CTA fills in that gap:

“Bargaining teams shall demand to bargain the funding and the impact of the Common Core on salaries and working conditions. Locals shall demand to bargain the pacing of program implementation, as well as purchasing books and materials. Districts shall utilize and compensate our members for doing work above what is normally required, such as developing assessments, curriculum and professional development.”

And you thought Common Core had something to do with English and math.

These goals reinforce the notion that collective bargaining is not simply a bilateral negotiation between management on one side and labor on the other. It is more correctly a trilateral negotiation to reconcile management’s demands, the employees’ demands, and the union’s demands. While the latter two may overlap, they are not the same. The more people realize that, the more honest public education collective bargaining can be.

‘Strategic leverage’ underpins California Teachers Association bargaining goals – EAGnews.org powered by Education Action Group Foundation, Inc..

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