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Party Lines: Is collective bargaining valid?
by Ben Horsley
Aug 05, 2011 | 1100 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Accountability to an employer is and always will be the primary concern. In what other employment capacity is the employee’s performance not a basis for pay or employer action (either promotion or discipline)?

I have never understood the rationale that because an employer is a public entity, that the employees pay or positions should not be based on some type of performance.

Let me be clear. I fully respect the rights of any employee group (public or private) to organize themselves and have representation with a company or government entity. At the same time, I also fully respect the rights of an employer to refuse to negotiate with such a group.

Collective bargaining is not always in the best interests of an organization, especially, when the product of the organization is a known commodity or a specific outcome is desired. This is particularly true in public education.

Are we not trying to provide the best and most quality educational product for our children? While I know that the majority of our teachers are working hard for the benefit of children, like any entity, there are typically some bad apples. As such, it is incumbent on the school district, to work toward an end that will provide a quality education for their customers (patrons and children).

If an employee group is not working toward that end, the employer has no other option but to refuse to negotiate. Product quality cannot be compromised especially when tax dollars are at stake!

Such is the case in Ogden, wherein the school district has attempted to bargain with the teachers union for over a year. Additionally, Ogden has five of the 10 least performing schools in the entire state. The product has been compromised and the district had no choice but to walk away from the negotiations. Recognizing the need for drastic changes in Ogden, the board has also moved towards a merit pay system to be fully implemented within the next few years.

I hear from many sides the problems with developing such a system. It can and should be done, but it needs the full support of the Legislature in terms of funding. Several years ago, the Legislature provided line item funding to mandate that districts create merit systems. Each district worked to create a merit system that worked for them. However, two thirds of the way into the school year, as teachers were working toward earning that merit pay; the Legislature froze the funds and then reneged on those funds because revenue projections had dramatically decreased for the next fiscal year. It is unfair to change the rules in the middle of the game. This bad experience has left teachers with little confidence in merit pay concepts.

We need to renew that confidence by bringing all parties to the table to create a meaningful merit system with reasonable evaluations and protections for both sides.

We should reward teachers who work in lower socio-economic schools since that is the most significant measurable correlation with regard to student performance. We should also be able to pay teachers who work in high demand subjects more money.

That could and should be the focus of meaningful collective bargaining, negotiations that are focused on a quality end product, our children’s education.
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