Collective bargaining, exclusive consultation and the right to work

Why ATPE has a nonunion philosophy

One of ATPE’s guiding tenets is that educators have the right to work in public schools without being forced to join any particular organization. That is why opposing collective bargaining and exclusive consultation policies for public education has long been a major component of the ATPE Legislative Program.

What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is a process through which management and labor (e.g., school boards and educators) negotiate to reach agreements on working conditions such as salaries, hours and benefits. Although on the surface this does not sound like a bad thing, the danger lies in the details: In states where collective bargaining is prevalent, school districts typically hold elections to determine which employee group will be designated to represent all employees of the school district. Only the designated group is allowed to negotiate with the school board; all other groups and their members are shut out of the negotiating process. In this situation, organizations with collective bargaining agreements can coerce educators into becoming members because those employees would otherwise have no representation before their school board.

Collective bargaining policies create an adversarial relationship between employees and employers that can compromise students’ education. In collective bargaining arrangements, striking is the most powerful bargaining tool. Statistics prove that strikes happen more frequently in collective bargaining situations, regardless of whether striking is legal.

In Texas, striking is currently illegal for public school employees. As a penalty for breaking this law, educators who strike will have their teaching certificates and their Teacher Retirement System (TRS) benefits permanently revoked. For this reason, and because ATPE’s priority is to support Texas students by supporting educators, we vehemently oppose strikes.

What is exclusive consultation?

The concept of consultation is related to collective bargaining, but consultation is legal in Texas. Because collective bargaining and forcing public school employees to join a union is illegal in our state, many school districts instead have a “consultation” policy that allows a school board to “meet and confer” with educators about educational policy and employment conditions. Unlike collective bargaining, the input given by employees through the consultation process is legal because it is merely considered advisory; there is no binding legal contract. The employing school district need not necessarily act upon the employees’ advice, and the school board makes any final decisions on matters discussed through the consultation process.

Some districts have exclusive consultation policies whereby they designate one local group to exclusively represent all the district’s employees in those non-binding discussions. ATPE opposes exclusive consultation agreements for many of the same reasons we oppose collective bargaining: They force educators to either belong to the designated organization or else have little opportunity to provide input to the school board. Instead, ATPE supports inclusive consultation policies in which all employee organizations are allowed to consult with school boards on issues important to the organization’s members. We believe it takes an entire community to educate Texas’ children. This includes parents, faculty and even employee organizations whose principles might differ from our own. Inclusive consultation policies also protect educators from being coerced to join an organization that might not represent their beliefs and being forced to pay exorbitant union dues.

What does “right to work” mean?

Texas is a “right to work” state. This means that, by law, employees in our state cannot be forced to join a professional union or organization as a term of employment. In states such as New York and California that don’t have “right to work” laws, all teachers are forced to become members of the union that represents their district. In some cases, unions that have sued educators who refused membership have won. Collective bargaining agreements and exclusive consultation policies leave the door open for this kind of union tactic.

Questions? Send us a message or call the ATPE state office at (800) 777-2873.

This is legislative advertising contracted for by Dr. Shannon J. Holmes, Executive Director, Association of Texas Professional Educators, 305 E. Huntland Dr., Suite 300, Austin, TX 78752-3792, representing ATPE.