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The Impact of Collective Bargaining on Public and Client Interests in Education

by Douglas E. Mitchell - 1979

This paper proposes an analytical perspective for interpreting the major variables involved in the formation of labor relations policy for education.

As public school changes go, the introduction of collective bargaining in­to school organizations has been quite rapid. Since the first enabling legislation was passed by Wisconsin in 1959, at least thirty-two states have provided some form of legislative basis for teachers to organize and seek collective consideration of their contracts with school boards.1 In some other states, such as Illinois, collective bargaining has become a de facto reality, even though no specific legislation has supported its development. Despite nearly two decades of experience with a wide variety of specific arrangements for collective bargaining, however, little is known about the impact of collective negotiations on either the distribution of budget dollars or the formation of educational policy. The available literature of­fers few solid empirical findings and displays little agreement about how to conceptualize the impact of bargaining legislation or practice. For the most part, analysis has remained a partisan matter aimed primarily at in­fluencing political support or opposition for militant teacher organiza­tions.

This paper proposes an analytical perspective for interpreting the major variables involved in the formation of labor relations policy for education. Specifically, the intent is to describe the primary relationships between collective negotiations, pursuit of the public interest, and the protection of client interests affected by school labor relations policies. Two sources of field data form the basis for the analysis to be presented here. The first consists of the transcripts taken from public hearings held by the National Committee for Citizens in Education (NCCE) in five ma­jor metropolitan centers during 1974. Witnesses appearing at these hear­ings and the nature of their testimony are described in detail in the NCCE report Public Testimony on Public Schools.2 The second data set consists of transcripts from videotaped interviews with twenty-two prominent po­litical and education group representatives generated during 1975 under the sponsorship of the Associates Program (TAP) of the Institute for Educational Leadership.3

In the NCCE hearing transcripts, collective bargaining is only one of the five major themes that concerned witnesses who were invited to discuss all of the major issues they felt are confronting school governance. The TAP interviews focus entirely on collective bargaining for public education and provide a more detailed treatment of its elements and problems.


The first impression one gets from these transcripts is one of mind-boggling diversity and contradiction. The speakers have different in­terests, offer different viewpoints, and often use the same words with dif­ferent meanings. In order to grasp the significance of the data, we must begin by identifying some integrative themes that relate the divergent views to one another. Representative Al Burstein of New Jersey ar­ticulated the most useful overall perspective on collective bargaining policy when he said:

Basic, of course, are the grant of powers to public employees and teachers specifically, to bargain collectively, to organize. That's a fun­damental right, as I view it. The second thing is that in order to stimulate solutions to bargaining problems there has to be some provi­sion that would enable some tribunal to make a finding of unfair labor practices in the event of an unjust or obstinate refusal to bargain in good faith. (TAP, Burstein, p. 8, emphasis added)4

Arbitrator Arnold Zack put the same point more bluntly when he said:

You're now in a power broker's game and it's a question of negotiating the best deal you can get; with rules . . . what we need is an arena, and what we need is a referee, and what we need are rules for this combat. (TAP, Zack, p. 7)

These two men recognize explicitly what is assumed in all of the data: Conflict among legitimate interests is endemic to labor relations,5 and the role of government in this area is one of conflict management through the establishment of an equitable balance of power among these legitimate interests.6 This balance of power is created by governmental action through (1) establishing rules governing the behavior of the contending parties in their relationships with each other, and (2) providing an effec­tive tribunal with the authority to decide whether the parties are violating the rules and the power to restrain an offending party.

California legislative consultant John Bukey describes how this govern­mental role becomes effective through the development of legislation when he points out that

 language is all-important. When you're talking about a bill that is restricting, or perhaps structuring, a power relationship, just how you state something and how you give the power is enormously important. (TAP, Bukey, p. 4)

In other words, statute construction is the technology of power balanc­ing. By the use of statute language, governmental action connects the realities of power with the social-policy goal of an equitable balance among legitimate interests. This means that, as indicated in Figure A, there are three levels in the analysis of labor relations policy for schools:7


  • the social policy level, where "legitimate interests" are defined, thus identifying which ones deserve support;
  • the power resource level, where we discover what power resources are available to each party with a legitimate interest and how potent these power resources are, and, be­tween these two,

(3) the statute language level where specific statute pro­visions are used to alter the pattern of power resources available to various interested parties.

Developing a labor relations policy that is integrated across all three of these analytic levels is complicated in three important ways. First, power relationships depend on the orchestrated impact of many different policy elements, not just the isolated effects of separate elements. American Association of School Administrators executive director Paul Salmon il­lustrates this complexity when he argues that collective bargaining on a "narrow scope of issues is quite appropriate," but if the scope of bargain­ing is broadened to include matters of educational policy, then "parents ought to be able to sit at the table, because otherwise . . . we're really abrogating their rights" (TAP, Salmon, pp. 2-4). In these remarks, Salmon relates a policy-level concern for parents' legitimate interests to a statute-language level consideration of the scope of bargaining. He im­plicitly identifies "sitting at the table" as a power resource essential for balancing parental rights against teacher interest if bargaining involves a broad scope of educational policy questions. A second source of complex­ity across the analytic levels lies in the fact that education involves public sector economics and is a recently unionized industry. Consequently, we do not know with any certainty what the long-term consequences of some statute provisions might be. As New Jersey's Burstein put it, "We are essentially in an experimental field. We are still groping for final answers" (TAP, Burstein, p. 14).

A third source of complexity lies in the symbolic character of political decision making.8 The symbolic significance of some policy options is so overwhelming that technical considerations cannot be easily examined. Colorado Senator Hugh Fowler illustrates this when he says:

I am opposed to collective bargaining because collective bargaining in the public sector changes our form of government ... it is simply a violence done to a republican form of government ... I say that the reality is that collective bargaining is destroying our country today and it's gotta be stopped and I hope that we'll stop it in Colorado. (TAP, Fowler, pp. 16, 18)

As this remark suggests, whenever governmental actions are taken there will be some who find the solution more loathsome than the prob­lem itself. When those who object to a policy for moral or symbolic reasons have positions of political power and authority, they will resist proposed policy changes regardless of the actual outcomes such changes would produce.9 This generally leads to the necessity for political accom­modation and compromise within the legislature so that, as New Jersey's deputy commissioner of education put it,

Most of the bills that have been passed are so full of compromise that just reading them you can see the kind of exchanges that took place be­tween the different pressure groups during the process of passing a par­ticular act. (TAP, Lataille, p. 4)

Disentangling these complexities and interpreting the impact of collec­tive bargaining on public and client interests is facilitated if we examine each policy level separately. The next section explores the problem of legitimate interests. Questions of available power resources and the issues involving specific statute language are examined in succeeding sections.


What are the legitimate interests that need to be accomodated in educa­tion labor policy? On the surface, this question seems fairly simple and usually evokes a list of specific interest groups that are identified as having legitimate interests affected by collective bargaining processes or out­comes. Four groups are consistently mentioned, although they tend to overlap and lose clarity of definition as discussion of their actual interests progresses. The first group, of course, is the teachers whose incomes and working conditions are being settled. The second group is management, usually thought to include both school board members and the school's chief administrators. In discussions of collective bargaining it is quite rare to find distinctions being drawn between school board interests and ad­ministrative interests. Administrators tend to see themselves as merely representing school board interests, while teacher organizers see the school boards as largely dominated by administrative interests. A third interest group is the school clients. Both students and parents are general­ly seen as belonging to this group. Some observers tend to think primarily of the students while others emphasize the importance of their parents. The comment of a Washington State Department of Education executive summarizes the typical view of client impact on the outcomes of collective bargaining. He told the NCCE panel:

I've sat in on a great many negotiation sessions all over the country and it's amazing how many times you never hear a student mentioned in the process. (NCCE, Portland, p. 10)

And a Portland teacher organizer explains why this is so:

We have been so busy trying to get ourselves as teachers into the decision-making role that we really haven't thought a lot about how to get the students and parents into it. We're fighting tooth and nail to get into it ourselves. (NCCE, Portland, p. 32)

The fourth interest group is the public, which elects school boards and state legislators, pays taxes, and evaluates student outcomes. For many observers, the public interest is identified with the parents' interest; for others, like Portland School Board member Robert Ridgley, public interest is equated with the school boards' interest.10 Ridgley remarked to the NCCE panel that

you are talking about citizen involvement, but the great experiment in American education was to get citizen involvement. You know what that was called? The school board. And we seem to forget that in all of these studies. (NCCE, Portland, p. 77)

Figure B graphically depicts the four most frequently mentioned in­terest groups and enables us to see where some of the confusion of legitimate interests lies.

As the figure shows, only the teacher organization representatives and the administrative representatives are typically seated at the bargaining table. In our data, the dominant view is that these two parties alone will represent all legitimate interests. Teacher organizers argue that they are strongly motivated by client interests and that, as one union organizer puts it,

... as to who represents the children, I feel that teachers represent the children and I feel that the school boards represent the children—I think that when you begin the process, both sides want to do something that's going to be meaningful for them. (TAP, Singleton, p. 10)

Mr. Singleton perceptively continues, however,

Now they may get lost in the budget shuffle . . . and that's unfortu­nate, but then they always did. Things are better today for children than they were when bargaining started. Better than when I started teaching. (TAP, Singleton, p. 10)

When questioned about representation of parental and public interests (parents being seen now as part of the public), Mr. Singleton offers the typical response of those who are involved in either labor or management groups when he says:

I've talked to this question for long periods of time, and I can honestly conclude that I do not understand the question. I mean, who represents them? The people that they elected, the school boards. I'm just not clear on why they feel they haven't been represented . . . maybe the school board doesn't always reflect the community, but they're elected and they serve a two-year term (in Rhode Island) and if you don't like what they're doing, then you unelect them. (TAP, Singleton, p. 9)


Clarification of the relationships among legitimate interests can be achieved only by getting beyond simply listing the groups whose interests are affected. The actual interests themselves must be explored and their structure analyzed. Several important efforts in this direction have begun appearing in the research literature on public sector bargaining over the past few years.11 These efforts have, however, been largely based on theoretical descriptions of interests, rather than on reports or claims of interest drawn directly from interest group representatives. The data on which this report is based contributes significant new evidence in this area by highlighting two factors that go far in accounting for the special nature of the legitimate interests affected by school labor policy. The first factor springs from the character of education as a public good. The second arises from the nature of the work done by teachers.

Education is a public good; it is produced by public employees under conditions of compulsory acceptance by clients and compulsory support by taxpayers. This fact alters quite fundamentally the relationship between taxpayer and client interests in educational collective bargaining and those of consumers who utilize marketplace choices to express their interests in the private sector.

Wes Apker of the National Association of State School Boards in­troduces these ideas when he says:

I think there are substantive differences between the private sector and the public sector. I don't want to go into a long esoteric discussion about how the consumer purchasing goods in the private market con­trols pretty much —puts some constraints on —what management and employees can bargain and how far they can go. But if we use that analogy and apply it to the public sector, the public, the consumer in the public sector has no choice. If the police go on strike that con­sumer can't go anyplace else to get police protection. Similarly, parents and children have no choice as to where their children go to school if they are living in a particular school district unless they can afford a private school. And if the teachers go on strike they have no other option. Okay, given that, the constraints imposed by con­sumer purchases in the private sector no longer apply to the public sector. (TAP, Apker, pp. 1, 2)

Recent literature on this subject recognizes the absence of competi­tive markets in the area of educational services.12 Not often recognized, however, is that this loss of the market control is not related to alterna­tive choices at all. Rather it is related to the fact that clients are compelled by the police power of the state to utilize educational services whether or not they value or desire them. And taxpayers are compelled by that same power to pay for the costs of education whether or not they feel that they benefit in any way from the services. Hence it is not the lack of competitive offerings (which actually do exist to some extent) but the total lack of individual choice regarding the value of education which means that market controls cannot be expected to be effective.

Because of the absence of market choice mechanisms, representatives of taxpayer and client interests tend to see collective bargaining as a matter of school governance rather than labor-management relations. For the public and the clients, labor relations laws are recognized as important because, in the absence of a marketplace, they provide a vital mechanism for controlling the delivery of educational services. This view­point led the California League of Women Voters to lobby strenuously for a bill forcing disclosure of contract proposals prior to their consideration in bargaining sessions because, in the words of league executive Jackie Berman,

league members believe that the policy agreements which resulted from . . . non-public sessions were a direct threat to our position re­quiring "involvement of the community." (NCCE, Los Angeles, Thurs., p. 139)

Berman's use of the term "involvement" blurs the important distinction between representative governance and direct participation. Representa­tion of citizen and client interests within the collective bargaining pro­cess is widely discussed in our data. One expressed viewpoint is that school boards are, and legally must be, the public's representative. A contrary view, expressed by NCCE spokesman Douglas Mitchell and supported by substantial research evidence,13 is that

the thing we have to first understand is that there's a difference between representing the public and managing the schools. I don't think that the school boards intend themselves to represent public interest . . . they think of themselves as trustees of a corporation rather than as members of a delegate representative assembly . . . they understand management's problems, they work very closely with the school superintendent . . . that's reasonable, that's appropriate, that's the way the system has to work—the public, when they are electing school board members, however, are not electing a delegate representative assembly, they are electing a board of trustees to assist in oversight of the management of the schools . . . what we do not have at the local school level is an elected body that serves the function of a representa­tive body. (TAP, Mitchell. pp. 1, 2, 7)

If school boards do not adequately represent the public interest, how can it be given expression? Some observers call for the creation of new representation mechanisms (such as NCCE's proposal for school councils at each local school, aggregated to form larger representative bodies).14 Others suggest one or more of a wide range of direct participa­tion mechanisms ranging from public disclosure of proposals, to "fishbowl" bargaining, to public access to the bargaining table itself.15 Portland board member Robert Ridgly presses the urgency of public access for practical as well as political reasons when he says:

What this country really needs is a third force in education. A third force because we are getting bifurcated and polarized into a collective bargaining stance which . . . puts school board members and adminis­trators on one side and teachers organizations on the other . . . there is more of a barrier to ... change than perhaps any of us realize and that barrier ... is the direction that we are headed in collective negotiations. (NCCE, Portland, pp. 67, 69)

Just as the compulsory and public-good character of education turns collective bargaining into a governance issue for public and client groups, the specialized character of teachers' work leads to an emphasis by these interests on teacher productivity. Public school teaching is complex and demanding work. More importantly, there are no adequate descriptions of rudimentary production function variables for education that would enable us to predict how moderate changes in such manipulable class­room variables as curricula, teacher training, number and types of students, and so forth, affect learning outcomes. Even though such production-function data are not available, the results of schooling are seen by clients and publics as crucially important for children's success in adult life. Consequently there is an understandable tension between teachers' interests in expanding control over the conditions of their work and client or public demands for access to and control over the goals and results of that work.

An Oregon School Board Association executive highlights this tension when he says:

I think you see in education something different than in any other field. . . . It's only in education that we see the employees organiza­tion really trying to get control or at least bilateral decision over the mission of the organization and the way in which that mission is going to be carried out. (NCCE, Portland, p. 21)

This may seem like an overstatement, but a review of the claims made by teacher organizers about their purposes and goals suggests that it is not. A Portland teacher organizer displays the typical view when he reports that

we look with disfavor on any narrow view of the role of teacher involve­ment in decision-making processes. The members of our association have increased their dues over 17% to enable us to provide staff and training for the participants of ... educator council programs at the building level. If this program works as we hope it will, it will mean an end to control of the planning process by management of the district alone. (NCCE, Portland, p. 28)

Teacher organizers repeatedly acknowledge that their interests go far beyond "bread and butter" matters and include the essential character of school program policy.

From the client and public perspectives, the problem of controlling the work performed in schools is partly a matter of matching the level of decision making with the level of the problems that need decisions.

One school board member told the NCCE panel that

there are essentially two problems in the school system. One of these is the problem at the local building level in the classrooms, where the children and teacher come face to face and where education should be taking place. You have a separate and distinct problem at the district-wide level and that is where you have to try to find neces­sary resources, be they financial or human, to provide district guide­lines and policies to see to it all children in the district have equal opportunity for education within that system. (NCCE, Los Angeles, Thurs., pp. 171-72)

Another insisted that

your number one problem in terms of getting more involvement in the school is the simple fact that most citizens care about getting involved only when their interests are going to be pretty directly affected by the issues . . . generally people only care enough to get involved if it is either their local school or their child that is going to be affected. (NCCE, Portland, pp. 68, 69)

Generally speaking, school administrators and school board members and leaders have taken the position that they are protecting the client and public interest in productivity by insisting on a very narrow scope of bargaining for the teacher contract while reserving most productivity questions to a matter of "management rights." National School Boards Association spokesman Gus Steinhilber puts the point clearly:

Should curriculum development be part of terms and conditions of employment? — we think not, we think there's some residual manage­ment rights, if you will, that should remain with the board, because how else can parents be protected? How else can the students be protected? ... I really fear that if it's all determined in a collec­tive negotiated agreement, then how will you determine productivity? How will we increase productivity? I think you become stultified that way. (TAP, Steinhilber pp. 8, 9)

As numerous witnesses at the NCCE hearings confirmed, however, citizens and clients are no more confident that school boards or adminis­trators will see to it that they get the right type and quality of education than they are that teachers will readily serve their needs. Frequently, in fact, they can be found supporting local teachers against the "downtown" administration and school boards. In the final analysis, adequate protec­tion of legitimate client/public interests in productivity rests on whether or not contract clauses can contain sufficiently precise specification of teachers' work performance to enable clients to be served by effective contract administration, or whether some other basis for resolving pro­ductivity conflicts must be found. If contracts can be written that cover the needed interests, then we are back to the governance question of how to bring client/public interests to the bargaining table. If, as seems more likely, an inability to specify what results will follow from particular educational activities means that teachers cannot contract to deliver services in ways that take account of client/public performance interests, then it is important to keep teachers constantly exposed to expressions of public and client concerns over the productivity of the schools and to provide public and client groups with direct access to educational policymaking at appropriate levels and with the powers needed to make that access effective.

If the object of labor legislation is to establish a balance of power among the various legitimate interests —labor, management, client and public —what are the sources of the power that can be distributed or redistributed to achieve that balance? Most observers do not confront this question directly. They tend, rather, to be concerned with power-balancing issues taken more or less issue by issue. There are at least three reasons for this: first, power tends to be thought of as a "dirty word" by many people, so they approach power relationships obliquely rather than directly. For example, Maryland representative Lucy Maurer says that she believes that collective bargaining

gives teachers an opportunity as a group to have an equal opportunity in reaching decisions about wages and hours. I do think that collective bargaining, to work, has to have equality at the bargaining table. If either the board or the teachers are too strong, then you don't have good bargaining. (TAP, Maurer, p. 1)

Representative Maurer is talking about a balance of power, but frames her views in terms of the more palatable symbol of "equal opportunity." The second reason that the descriptions of power are not as explicit as might be desired is that most people do not have a comprehensive view of power resources. Most observers tend to focus on one, or a few, types of power and not to consider other possibilities. While many citizen groups are very much aware of the formal power of school officials to make budget or programmatic decisions, they are far less aware of their own ability to bring informal political pressure to bear through threats of public exposure or the withdrawal of political support. The third and most important reason that our data do not present an orderly analysis of power resources is that many of the observers are unaware that labor relations policy is to be understood as primarily power balancing among interests. Power balancing is, after all, the analytic perspective taken by this paper —not necessarily the most important idea for those who contributed to our data.

A careful reading of our data uncovers eight different power resources that are or can be manipulated by means of changes in a collective bargaining statute.

1. The first, of course, is the legal power conferred on the parties to a collective contract to seek recourse administratively or in the courts for the failure of the other party to act in good faith or to execute agreements that are reached. This power operates through rules specifying who must do what, and outlawing some potential activities as unfair practices. Though primary, this is by no means the only power resource affected.

2. A second source of power touched by collective bargaining law is the power of organization. When groups are formed, elect officers, hold meetings, or otherwise establish cohesiveness and consensus on important issues, they invariably exercise considerably more influence than individual members of the group did before organization. Recognizing this power of organization, labor leaders have sought the right to organize in many cases long before they have demanded collective bargaining.

3. The third power resource affected by labor law is the power of money. Money for travel, staff personnel, office space, or to finance political lobbying efforts is generally made available to unions through dues that are made legal and easily collected through the statute.

4. A fourth power resource is information. Early in every effort to influence the course of policy in any complex organization, there arises a need for information. Citizens and teachers alike are deeply sensitive to the power of information control that rests in the hands of school administrators. A collective bargaining statute can determine who will have access to various sorts of school district information.

5. A fifth source of power that is affected by labor law is the power to bring economic or political sanctions to bear on those representing contending interests. Such sanctioning activities as boycotts, strikes, slow­downs, court injunctions, employee dismissals, or public demonstrations and picketing are manipulated by collective bargaining laws so as to change the relative power of one group or another.

6. A sixth source of power is expertise. If the labor law enables labor, management, or public or client interests to be represented by profes­sional negotiators, serviced by budget development or public relations specialists, or supported by other experts, then those interests are more likely to be realized.

7. A seventh source of power affected by most labor relations laws is that of personal charismatic or persuasive power in the creation of fact finders, mediators, and arbitrators who have the right and opportunity to try to facilitate settlements by persuading various interest groups to compromise their demands and accommodate other interests.

8. Also not to be overlooked is the important ideological or symbolic power of government to legitimate specific interests by recognizing their interests in public debate and statute provisions as well as to refuse to legitimate other interests.16

Producing a balance of power among legitimate interests does not, of course, mean giving identical powers to all interest groups. Rather, each interest must be given power resources appropriate to the nature and extent of their interests. Some resources are better suited to defend­ing or protecting interests that might be trampled on, while others are more appropriate to the aggressive pursuit of interests. For instance, ideo­logical or symbolic legitimacy does not help much to protect individuals against organizational or moneyed interests, but it provides assistance in helping one organization establish itself against another. The power of legal recourse in the courts, on the other hand, is ideally suited to the protection of individual rights and interests.

Changing the balance of power among interest groups is not an easy task for a legislature. Not only is sophisticated political judgment required in order to determine when a balance has been achieved, but the interest groups invariably see themselves as too weak and in need of more legislative support. Connecticut Representative Klebanoff puts the legislator's dilemma succinctly when he says:

Too often we have, of course, the different groups coming in asking us to pass legislation which is really to give one side a club which they can use to have the upper hand. We in the legislature come from all walks of life and hopefully, however, we can dissassociate ourselves from some of our backgrounds and look at the situation fairly — pass a law that is fair to both sides, that doesn't give one side an advantage over the other. (TAP, Klebanoff, p. 6)

Illinois Representative Hoffman underscores the political difficulty of achieving an adequate consideration of public interests.

In the General Assemblies the public isn't really very well represented. The people we come in contact with in legislative bodies are usually special interest groups, and if we are, in fact, to be truly public servants, the quicker we get on with this type of thing the more likely their interest is to be taken into consideration. (TAP, Hoffman, p. 11)


Statute-construction issues arise from interactions between the realities of power resources and the goal of giving each interest group sufficient power to protect and pursue its own interests while preserving the rights and interests of others. At least five major statute issues important to public and client interests are receiving repeated attention in the continuing development of collective bargaining for public schools.

The Scope of Bargaining

New Jersey Representative Burstein reports:

I am of the opinion that the scope of bargaining which is probably the stickiest part of this whole subject that we're discussing, has to be carefully viewed so as to not infringe upon what are so-called manage­ment rights of boards of education to establish curriculum to, in effect, run the school system without the necessity of going back to the teachers in one case or another. (TAP, Burstein, p. 3)

And a long-time consultant to the New York City school board, Ida Klaus, says:

There ought to be a determination of the scope of collective bar­gaining in the law. Now Ive changed my position on that. I used to say the parties ought to work it out and can work it out. I think there've been a number of strikes, or too many strikes on the issue of what's negotiable and what's not. And I believe it's the better part of wisdom to include in such a law what the areas of collective bargaining are, more specifically than appears in most public employee laws. . . . Subjects should be gone into. (TAP, Klaus, p. 10)

Union organizer Bernie Singleton, however, insists that

anything should be bargainable —I mean I'm always amused when I get into this area of legislating the scope of bargaining. . . . I think any strong union can negotiate anything it wants to negotiate and I think any weak union couldn't negotiate things that it might have the legal ability to negotiate, but without the strength and without the member­ship behind a particular issue it's not going to be negotiated. I think you ought to be able to talk about anything. (TAP, Singleton, p. 4)

New Jersey Deputy Commissioner of Education Lataille reports that the scope of bargaining is one of the issues most frequently settled through the compromise/consensus building process that leads to the development of a statute. He says that

the typical compromise that happens in the passage of a state act is that the union will come in fighting very hard for a very open act and management will come in looking for a management rights clause built into the act similar to what Hawaii has, and also looking for scope of bargaining the compromise ends up being that they give up the scope of bargaining. (TAP, Lataille, p. 8)

A moment's reflection on the remarks by these four observers makes it painfully obvious that the question of the scope of bargaining is intimately bound up with a number of other issues such as management rights, strikes, and union strength. A statute will not only affect the scope of bargaining, but will balance the scope question against these other concerns. Portland school board member Robert Ridgly connects the question of bargaining scope directly to that of citizen interests:

Some people are proposing —instead of two chairs at the table, the way to solve this problem is to have three chairs and have the citizen representative, the teacher representative, and the school board repre­sentative. . . . My point was that that is a secondary solution, once you've lost the first game of the double-header. The first game . . . is now being played ... [it is to] make a clear delineation of those issues that should be on the table at these secret meetings and those issues that should be kept off the table legally. (NCCE, Portland, pp. 75, 76)

Two important disagreements are found in our data. First, even the most sophisticated observers disagree on how best to settle the question of scope. Teachers are almost universally committed to a broad scope approach while management sees the narrowing of scope as vital to the protection of their interests. A second and more important disagreement illuminated by our data, however, concerns the question of whether the scope of bargaining actually can be effectively controlled by statute. Several observers agree with the implication in Mr. Singleton's remark (previously quoted) that no effective containment of the scope of bargaining is possible due to either the logic of the legislative process or the logic of the negotiating process or both. If it proves to be the case that the scope of bargaining is difficult or impossible to contain through legislation, alternative mechanisms are needed to adequately protect management and client interests. This is one area in which little is known and where effective research could prove invaluable to policymakers.

Resolution of Impasses

The second major issue in the development of a collective bargaining statute is how to resolve disagreements between the parties when an impasse is reached. John Callahan of the Conference of State Legislatures puts the matter succinctly:

I think more states are trying to build in two or three types of impasse procedures into their laws so that we follow a course where we start from mediation, for example, fact finding; going through these pro­cesses, then if we get to the position where those particular impasse procedures don't work, then obviously it's a choice between arbitration and allowing a strike to occur. (TAP, Callahan, p. 9)

In education both strike and arbitration impasse resolution procedures take on new meanings. Some observers believe that arbitration is unwork­able because an arbitrator in the public sector acquires governmental powers, which he exercises without public electoral accountability. In this view, arbitration means government without representation. In point of fact, arbitrators have no more discretionary power than is already vested in a fairly large number of appointed public officials, especially judges. But symbolic and ideological resistance to arbitration is neverthe­less quite strong. A second, more substantive problem with arbitration is related to the fact that financial support for schools is derived from taxes and not connected to measurable efficiency or productivity. Hence neither wage demands nor work-rule changes can be evaluated on the basis of their possible effects on available resources. Consequently, an arbitrator is forced to rely on political guidelines such as "prevailing wages" or "standard practices" rather than on economic considerations in making decisions. While no adequate research on this topic is yet available, it is understandable that many observers feel that such arbitration decisions will give organized employees disproportionate control over both school budgets and work rules.

If arbitration is not economically sound in schools, however, strikes are still less so. Strikes in private sector industries have very significant economic consequences for both labor and management. Revenues are reduced for both groups due to lost wages and lost productivity. In the schools, however, tax revenues continue to flow into management whether classes are being held or not (although in some states the state-level revenues based on average daily attendance are affected). Furthermore, in most states, the mandatory school year length insures teachers of full salary once a strike is settled.

As with arbitration, some observers feel that strikes are morally or ideologically offensive. To most, however, the big question surrrounding strike policy concerns the special character of public sector economics. The real costs of a strike are borne largely by school clients and the public, who experience immediate disruptions of family routines and educational programs and who have no recourse except perhaps to punish the school system politically. While the impact of arbitration is less immediate, some observers see it as more important in the long run. These observers feel that public access and participation in important policy and program decisions can be communicated to striking teachers or board members, but will be lost when arbitrators consider only the interests of teachers and managers in reaching settlements.

Bargaining Unit Strength

Statute provisions play an important part in fixing the relative strengths of union, management, and public organizations involved in collective bargaining. Such matters as dues check-off, level of support required to force an election, security of representation once elected, union or closed shop provisions, form the basis of employee union strength. Limitations on strikes, specification of management rights, identification of mana­gerial employees, and similar statute provisions are frequently used to enhance the power of managers. Public and client interests are rarely addressed directly in labor relations statutes. However, they are obviously affected by the strengths or weaknesses of the other interested parties.

Some citizen groups are suggesting that the same organizational powers being created for teachers should be made available to client and citizen groups. One proposal in this regard is for the creation of school councils with effective legislative policy authority.17 Another is suggested by a San Francisco Parent Teacher Association officer who remarked:

There are those who say we ought to become the parents union. Perhaps we ought to drop the T in PTA and then we could get into that position of creative tension with others who have a role. We should be in an adversary position. (NCCE, Los Angeles, Friday, p. 146)

And San Francisco American Federation of Teachers president James Ballard seems to agree. When asked whether he thought parents ought to organize a union and bargain collectively, he responded "absolutely" (NCCE, Los Angeles, Friday, p. 122). From the point of view of public and client interests, the dilemmas of a strong teacher union settling bilateral contracts with a strong administrative group are very real. The development of labor policy in education needs to take account of the question of how client/public interests are to be organized. There is, however, little in the way of competent research to guide legislators in this area.

Public Participation In or Access to the Negotiations

Several proposals for structuring the relationship of student, parent, and public groups to teacher and management groups within the negotia­tion process are found in our data. They include (1) strong insistence that private, closed-door sessions are essential to real bargaining, (2) public disclosure of initial proposals, (3) public observation of the bargaining sessions, (4) actual participation of the public as members of negotiation teams, or (5) public representatives' "sitting at the table" in a "chair" of their own. By silence or by direct provision of powers, statute language will, of necessity, support one and reject other types of access. From a research point of view almost nothing is known about the impact of public disclosure or public participation on negotiations.

Administrative Procedures, Unfair Labor Practices, and Other Laws Affecting Teacher Employment

There is a large collection of statute-language problems surrounding the administration of collective bargaining laws for schools. How the powers of an executive oversight agency are structured, and how budgeting, taxation, and previous employer employee relations laws are handled have a tremendous impact on the balance of powers created between the parties with an interest in collective bargaining. Whether clients or publics will have any right to contract interpretation and enforcement, or appellate review for their grievances against labor and/or management practices, is a potentially important matter. At the present moment, however, all of the legal machinery behind public school collective bargaining has made the assumption that only manager and teacher interests need judicial machinery.


The foregoing discussion has utilized a power-balancing perspective to describe how collective bargaining impacts on the legitimate interests of school clients and the public. We have noted that bargaining statutes represent the technology of political power balancing in that they control the distribution of various power resources among various groups with legitimate interests in decisions reached at the bargaining table. The perspective utilized in this analysis has a number of important implica­tions for both policymakers and researchers. While space does not permit elaborate discussions, several of these can be identified as needing careful attention.

For policymakers, the major point to be remembered is that public sector collective bargaining policy cannot be simply or even primarily a matter of bilateral — labor-management — relations. Public interests are vitally affected and client interests easily trampled on if disproportionate powers are given to management and/or teacher groups. A second policy guideline is implied in the recognition that collective bargaining can control only contractable services by teachers. To the extent that edu­cation requires teachers to perform services that cannot be framed as clauses in a contract, legislative policymakers must continue to wrestle with other mechanisms for ensuring that teacher work decisions will be responsive to the needs of all interested parties.

For researchers, this paper points to three initial questions that urgently need to be addressed. First, to what extent, if any, have collective bargaining policies actually foreclosed client and/or public access to edu­cational policy?18 Second, what important consequences for each of the primary interest groups flow from existing variations in public school labor relations laws? And third, what are the actual educational program consequences of various types of bargaining relationships and patterns of contract settlements, in terms of both economics and educational quality?

There is probably no better conclusion to this inquiry into public and client interests in collective bargaining than that offered by Love and Sulzner:

It is regrettable, though understandable, that public employee organi­zation and bargaining progressed so rapidly as to preclude sufficient consideration of the many salient differences existing between the pub­lic and private sector. . . . We can only hope that it is not too late for a reassessment of public employee bargaining—a reassessment aimed at discovery and recognition of the unique characteristics of this process and the development of policy guidelines and regulations keyed to these differences.19


1 For a brief summary of the development of collective bargaining legislation in public education, see Laurence Pierce, "Teachers' Organizations and Bargaining: Power Imbalance in the Public Sphere," in Public Testimony on Public Schools, National Committee for Citizens in Edu­cation (Berkeley, Calif.: McCutchan Publishing, 1975), chap. 6


3 Interviewees in the TAP data set include: nine nationally prominent legislators from eight different states; a state deputy commissioner of education dealing with collective bar­gaining; national executives from the American Association of School Administrators, National Association of School Boards, National Association of State Boards of Education and the National Conference of State Legislators; two union organizers; a professional arbitrator; four pro­fessional staff people working for a school board, a state senate education committee, a governor's educational governance commission, and a national citizen's interest group; and a scholar with labor experience. A 45-minute videotape containing excerpts from these interviews is available from the Institute of Educational Leadership, Suite 310, 1001 Connecticut Avenue, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20036.

4 Information contained in the parentheses following each quotation identifies the transcripts from which the quotation is taken (TAP stands for the Associates Program transcripts; NCCE stands for the transcripts from The National Committee for Citizens in Education hearings). In the case of the TAP transcripts, the interviewee and the page number of his/ her interview are given. For the NCCE hearings the location of the hearing and page in the transcript for the day is given.

5 The recognition that collective bargaining is concerned with conflict among competing interests is easily found in the literature on this subject. See, for example, Robert L. Walter, The Teacher and Collective Bargaining (Lincoln, Neb.: Professional Educators Publications, Inc., 1975). Walter says, "Collective bargaining is a means by which disputes between employers and employees are resolved" (p. 17).

6 Hazard also takes this view in his analysis of teacher organizations and the law when he points out that "teacher organizations challenge the traditional distribution of power in the public schools" (William R. Hazard, Education and the Law [New York: The Free Press, 1971], pp. 283-88).

7 It is this recognition that the policy, power resource, and statute levels of analysis are qualitatively different that distinguishes the approach taken in this paper from that which is currently found in collective bargaining literature. A few authors explore policy-level issues, recognizing that "the purpose of labor organizations is essentially political: it enables workers to participate meaningfully in the decision processes which establish the circumstances of their work, and to a considerable extent their life" (Thomas M. Love and George T. Sulzner, "Political Implications of Public Employee Bargaining," Industrial Relations 11, no. I [1972], p. 19). This recognition is the exception rather than the rule, however, in literature on school labor law.

8 There are many excellent works on the importance of symbols in politics. See, for example, Roger W. Cobb and Charles D. Elder, Participation in American Politics (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1972); Murray Edelman, The Symbolic Uses of Politics (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1967); or E.E. Schattschneider, The Semi-Sovereign People (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1969).

9    Theodore Lowi, The End of Liberalism (New York: Norton, 1969).

10 One group chaired by Seymour B. Sarason has made a study of the public and parent interests, published under the title The Community at the Bargaining Table (Boston: Institute for Responsible Education, January 1975). The use of the word "Community" in the title of this report effectively merges the client and the public interests, which are often treated as separate interests by other observers.

11 See, for example, The Community at the Bargaining Table; Louis V. Imundo, Jr., "Some Comparisons between Public Sector and Private Sector Bargaining," Labor Law Journal, December 1973; or Harry Wellington and Ralph Winter, "Structuring Collective Bargaining in Public Employment," Yale Law journal 79, no. 5 (April 1970).

12 Perhaps the best piece on this subject is that by John F. Burton, Jr., and Charles Krider, "The Role and Consequences of Strikes by Public Employees," Yale Law journal 79, no. 3 (1970). The view presented in this paper differs significantly from that of Burton and Krider. I am, however, indebted to their careful treatment of the issues.

13 A number of recent studies of school board members all support this general conclusion. See, for example, L. Harmon Zeigler and M. Kent Jennings, with G. Wayne Peak, Governing American Schools (North Scituate, Mass.: Duxbury Press, 1974).

14    See NCCE, Public Testimony on Public schools, chap. 9.

15 Charles W. Cheng, in "Community Representation in Teacher Collective Bargaining: Problems and Prospects" (Harvard Educational Review 46 [May 1976]: 153-74), offers a similar list of the forms of community participation. His list includes (1) seeking input during forma­tion of demands, (2) multilevel bargaining with some issues settled at the school site or other location less centralized than the district, (3) bargaining in public, (4) observer status for designated community representatives or groups, and (5) formal negotiator status for community groups.

16 For useful discussions of how governmental actions effectively legitimate some interests more than others see Edelman, The Symbolic Uses of Politics; or Robert Maclver, Web of Government (New York: Free Press, 1965). In the area of collective bargaining, the legislative intent paragraph of California's statute provides an excellent example of this legitimating function. The California law embraces the principle of teacher involvement in policy decision making in the statement of intent, while attempting to exclude such involvement by narrowly specifying the scope of negotiable issues.

17 Recent legislation in Florida and California has created individual school site councils in those states. These laws, however, provide only relatively weak advisory powers for these councils. The NCCE proposal calls for school site councils with stronger legislative and personnel powers. See NCCE. Public Testimony on Public Schools.

18 It is encouraging to note that the National Institute of Education has just funded (January 1979) a two-year study entitled "The Impact of Citizen Participation on Collective Bargaining and School Governance," which focuses on this question. Much remains to be done, however, and one single study cannot be expected to provide definitive or final answers.

19    Love and Sulzner, "Political Implications," pp. 32, 33.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 80 Number 4, 1979, p. 695-717
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1093, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 12:37:37 AM

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About the Author
  • Douglas Mitchell
    University of California, Riverside
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    DOUGLAS E. MITCHELL is Assistant Professor of Education, University of California, Riverside. He received a Ph.D. in Political Science from Claremont Graduate School and is currently involved in a study of the impact of collective bargaining on school district governance under a grant from the National Institute of Education.
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