Liberating Teachers: Toward Market Competition in Teacher Representation

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Since the emergence of teacher unionization inthe 1960s, the National Education Associationand the American Federation of Teachers havemonopolized the market for teacher representationservices. In the 34 states that require schoolboards to bargain collectively, the NEA and AFTshare almost 100 percent of the market for teacherrepresentation services. Inasmuch as the twounions operate under a noncompete agreement,there is virtually no competition for the right toserve as the exclusive representative of teachers atthe local level.

As is the case with monopolies generally, theNEA/AFT monopoly over teacher representationservices has resulted in excessive costs and producerdomination of services affecting millions of teachersand support personnel. In 2001, active teachermembership in the two unions was about 2.7 millionout of a total membership of about 3.7 million.Their combined revenues (local, state, and national)probably exceeded $1.5 billion, not including theirpolitical action committees, foundations, and specialpurpose organizations.

Although teachers would be the primary directbeneficiaries of competition against NEA/AFT, theschool choice movement would be a major, indirectbeneficiary. NEA and AFT are the primary opponentsof school choice. Were it not for their all-out opposition, our educational system would include manyoptions that are not yet available to K-12 students.

The argument in this analysis is that for-profitand nonprofit entities of all types should be authorizedto compete with membership organizations--that is, unions--for the right to serve as the exclusiverepresentative of teachers in collective bargaining.Such reform would open up competition to non-membershiporganizations, solo entrepreneurs,negotiators, lawyers, and collective bargaining companies.Teachers would retain the right to go withoutan exclusive representative, and each representationoption would compete against all the others.Teacher representation in the bargaining-law stateswould not be limited to unions as it is now.Teachers could change their choice of representativeperiodically, perhaps every two or three years, orat the expiration of their collective agreements.

The best way to end the NEA/AFT monopoly isfor states to enact legislation that (1) reduces theminimum required showing of interest from 30 to10 percent of the bargaining unit, (2) explicitlyallows individuals, nonprofit and for-profit organizations,and membership organizations to competefor the right to represent teachers, and (3)enables all members in bargaining units to vote onthe key decisions affecting their terms and conditionsof employment.

Myron Lieberman

Myron Lieberman is a senior research scholar with the Social Philosophy and Policy Center, Bowling Green State University, and author of several books about educational employment relations and school choice.