The repeal of much of Wisconsin’s collective bargaining law with regard to many of Wisconsin’s public employees has not been adequately explained.
This repeal will do more to improve the quality and lower the cost of Wisconsin government than anything else we’ve done. There are approximately 275,000 government employees in the state of Wisconsin. About 72,000 work for the state, 38,000 for cities and villages, 48,000 for counties, 10,500 (full-time equivalent) for technical colleges, and 105,229 for schools.
Only half of state employees are unionized, but almost all school employees are. As you can see, the biggest impact will be on Wisconsin’s schools.
Since my office has received the most complaints from school teachers, let’s look at how collective bargaining affects both the cost and quality of our schools.
Under the old law, virtually all conditions of employment have to be spelled out in a collectively bargained agreement. Consequently, it was very difficult to remove underperforming school teachers. It may take years of documentation and thousands of dollars in attorney fees to fire a bad teacher.
Is it right that two or three classes of second-graders must endure a bad teacher while waiting for documentation to be collected?
Just as damaging is the inability to motivate or change the mediocre teacher who isn’t bad enough to fire. Good superintendents are stymied when they try to improve a teacher who is doing just enough to get by.
While most teachers care about their students, some only “teach to the contract.” An elementary school teacher’s contract may require just seven hours and 45 minutes a day in school. If the principal wants to have a meeting after school to discuss curriculum, or requests a meeting with parents of a troubled student, a teacher could say that this is not in the contract.
Another problem affecting our schools’ quality is that payment for individual teachers is not based on merit but on a union negotiated pay schedule. A mediocre teacher with a master’s degree and additional college credits gets more money than a superior teacher who doesn’t have as many college credits.
This is clearly unfair, and destroys healthy incentives that would encourage teachers to be more effective. If enrollment drops, teachers must be let go. In practice, this means that collective bargaining causes the better teachers with less seniority to be laid off. If that’s not bad enough, a teacher who has never taught third grade may get to move ahead of a good third-grade teacher because of union bumping rights.
You also have to ask the union for permission to “share” a teacher with another school district if you want to give students more options. If you want to borrow another district’s teacher for a day to offer Mandarin Chinese, you must ask the union to sign off. The same could be true of offering new electives online for particularly gifted and talented students.
It has been well reported that under collective bargaining, districts have been stuck with the teacher union insurance company that can cost $3,000 or more per teacher than a plan that is virtually identical to that which another company is willing to provide. Switching to health savings accounts like the private sector is out of the question.
The teachers union must agree to changes in the schedule. If a school district wants to set its schedule so that it is the same as private schools to save money on school busing, the union must sign off.
A teacher may be entitled to 13 paid personal days. All this for employees who may only be required to work 190 days a year in the first place. There is also the cost of time spent negotiating 70-page contracts.
Clearly, collective bargaining penalizes schools and students, costs an exorbitant amount of money, and lowers the quality of education in Wisconsin. The same story could be told for tech schools, cities, counties, and the state.
After reviewing some union contracts, I can see why Jimmy Carter, a Democrat backed by a Democratic Congress, greatly reduced collective bargaining for federal employees via the Civil Service Reform Act. Even President Obama has not tried to restore these rights.
Massachusetts Democrats recently passed a bill divesting government employees of the power to collectively bargain most health-care benefits.
While we did not eliminate collective bargaining, we certainly reduced its scope in Wisconsin. As a direct result, the cost savings are significant at all levels of government.
But the most important benefit will be an improvement in the quality of our schools as efficiency, personnel decisions, compensation decisions and methods of teaching children will not be subject to union meddling and obstruction.
State Sen. Glenn Grothman, the assistant majority leader of the Wisconsin State Senate, represents the 20th District in Ozaukee County.