Hey, ho, collective bargaining has got to go!

Patrick Gibbons

Governor Gibbons has proposed eliminating collective bargaining for teachers. This idea, if not vouchers (also hated by unions), may be his most controversial proposal. Predictably the Las Vegas Sun, among others, opposes this idea on the grounds that it would hurt the state’s ability to attract new teachers, asserting:

Part of the problem in education is that the schools have not been able to attract and retain top candidates because teaching jobs, which require extensive education credentials, don’t pay well. Teachers should be held accountable – and bad teachers have no place in a classroom – but we also believe they should be paid like the professionals they are with the heavy responsibility they carry.

On the contrary, it is collective bargaining that seriously hurts the state’s ability to attract high-quality teachers. More importantly, collective bargaining has hurt students.

First, unions have negotiated costly certification procedures which keep out qualified adults. Unions (and union-sponsored legislators) have worked very hard to keep programs out of Nevada that would assist professional individuals become teachers. These stringent certification laws reduce the state’s pool of teaching applicants. Additionally, Nevada’s certification laws most likely also reduce the number of qualified minority applicants.

Second, unions have negotiated pay schedules that keep out highly qualified young persons and highly qualified transitioning professions by requiring such candidates to start at or near the bottom and then spend many years working their way up the pay scale.

Third, unions protect mediocrity through the tenure rules they’ve negotiated. Nevada’s teachers can earn tenure in one to two years and after that it becomes very difficult to fire poor performers. When parents complain about really bad teachers, the teachers aren’t let go, they are moved to schools where parents are less likely to complain – often schools in low-income, high-minority areas. Thus seniority and tenure create a situation where the kids who need the most help are most likely to be taught by the worst teachers.

Collective bargaining should be eliminated to open the door for alternative teacher certification, merit pay and the ability to fire terrible teachers. At the very least, public employee unions should be restricted to negating salaries only.

Nevada’s teachers are adult professionals (ranking 19th best paid in the nation by the National Education Association), not migrant laborers or factory workers exposed to harsh working conditions. Union representation is costly and unnecessary in a 21st century white-collar working environment.