Teacher's Unions/Collective Bargaining

AuthorJeffrey Wilson

Page 667


In 1935 Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act), which guarantees the right of private employees to form and join unions to bargain collectively. The vast majority of states have extended this right to public employees, including teachers at public school districts. Many states require school districts to bargain collectively with teachers who have formed a union. Other states require districts to meet with teachers' representatives. Some states expressly prohibit collective bargaining by public school teachers or other public employees.

A wide range of provisions may be negotiated in collective bargaining between teachers' unions and school districts. Some subjects are mandatory, while others are merely permitted or even prohibited. State law governs the appropriateness of subjects to be bargained. The following are some of the matters that are often the subject of this bargaining:

Academic freedom


Wages and salaries


Hours, workload, and teaching responsibilities

Tenure and probationary period



Reclassification and reduction

Evaluation procedures

Grievance procedures

Personnel files

Student discipline

Retirement benefits

Sick leave

Leaves and sabbaticals

Page 668

Constitutional Considerations Regarding Unions

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights provides: "Congress shall make no law … prohibiting … the right of people peaceably to assemble." This right, as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, has been interpreted to give teachers and other employees the right to free association, including the right to join a union, such as the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers. However, the Constitution does not grant teachers the right to bargain collectively with employers. This right is based on applicable provisions in state constitutions, federal statutes, or state statutes. Similarly, teachers do not have a constitutional right to strike, though other federal law or state law may permit teachers to strike.

Forming and Joining a Union to Bargain Collectively

Laws governing the representation process are often quite complex. This process prefaces the collective bargaining process and involves numerous considerations, including types of employees that will constitute a "bargaining unit," as well as the selection of an appropriate union to represent teachers. In the public school sector, state law affects both of these determinations. Some states exclude certain employees from a bargaining unit, including supervisors and individuals in management positions.

Bargaining Units

Teachers seeking to join for collective bargaining must define an appropriate bargaining unit. Under most labor relations statutes, only those individuals who share a "community of interests" may comprise an appropriate bargaining unit. Community of interests generally means that the teachers have substantial mutual interests, including the following:

Wages or compensation

Hours of work

Employment benefits



Training and skills

Job functions

Contact with other employees

Integration of work functions with other employees

History of collective bargaining

Many state statutes prescribe certain requirements or considerations with respect to bargaining units in the public sector. For example, some statutes require labor boards to avoid over-proliferation of bargaining units. Moreover, some statutes also set forth specific bargaining units, such as those for faculty, staff, maintenance, and similar distinctions.

Representation Procedures

The National Labor Relations Act and most state statutes provide formal processes for designation and recognition of bargaining units. If a dispute arises with respect to union representation, many states direct parties to resolve these dispute with the public employment relations board in that state. After the bargaining units are organized, members may file a petition with the appropriate labor board. The labor board will generally determine that jurisdiction over the bargaining unit is appropriate, that the proposed bargaining unit is appropriate, and that a majority of employees approve the bargaining unit through an election. Several procedures are usually in place in the statute and rules of the labor board to ensure that the vote is uncoerced and otherwise fair. After this election, the labor board will certify the union as the exclusive representative of the bargaining unit. Once a union is certified, usually for a one-year period, neither employees nor another union may petition for a new election.

Obligations and Resolution of Conflicts in Collective Bargaining
Exclusivity and Good Faith in Bargaining Agreement

Once a union has been elected, both public and private school boards are bound to deal exclusively with that union. The elected union must bargain for the collective interests of the members of the bargaining unit. Both the school district and the union representing teachers must bargain in good faith. The duty of parties to bargain in good faith is important in the collective bargaining process, since negotiations between school districts and unions can become intense and heated.

Interpretations of the term "good faith" under the National Labor Relations Act typically focus on openness, fairness, mutuality of conduct, and cooperation between parties. Many state statutes define "good faith" similarly, though some states provide more specific guidance regarding what constitutes

Page 669

good faith bargaining. Some states also provide a list of examples...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT