Free Maryland teachers from unions

December 09, 2008|By Tom Neumark

Though some teachers may not realize it, Maryland's laws infringe on their freedoms, place the interests of unions over individual teachers and restrict the ability of teachers to become entrepreneurs.

Teachers ought to have the right to be represented by a union. But they should also have the right to not be represented. Maryland forces teachers to be represented by unions, which violates teachers' rights and has negative consequences for teachers and students.

There is an important distinction between being "represented" by a union and being a "member" of a union. Maryland law - like that in many other states - does not require that teachers be members of a union, but it does require them to be represented. This means that individual teachers are not permitted to negotiate their own salaries, benefits and working conditions, even if they want to. Forbidding workers from negotiating on their own behalf and requiring that a third party be involved serves no public purpose, but it does benefit unions.

Despite union rhetoric about "workers' rights," the reality is that unions are a kind of business, and like all businesses they work to secure and enhance their revenues. By requiring all teachers in Maryland to pay hundreds of dollars per year in representation fees and by limiting the number of bargaining units allowed in each district, the unions have managed to bend the law to place their interests above teachers' rights.

In Maryland, all teachers are required to be represented; eventhose who prefer otherwise must pay a "representation fee," the amount of which they are not permitted to negotiate. The school system and the union negotiate what the teacher must pay. A teacher objecting to a union on religious grounds must still pay the amount of the representation fee to a charity. Which charity the money goes to must be negotiated with the union.

At a minimum, the inherent unfairness of being forced to pay for representation one does not want should be corrected through legislation in the next General Assembly session.

Because being represented is mandatory, and because most local districts sign exclusive representation contracts, unions have effectively consigned teachers to the status of "labor." If teachers could represent themselves, some would choose to start companies that provided educational services to local districts. Instead of being limited to a labor-management relationship, these teachers could become managers or entrepreneurs. Their firms could provide services ranging from a single teacher to a multi-disciplinary team with a focus on helping struggling schools, or many other possibilities. Teachers would be free from the uniform salary scale that unions promote, which results in underpaying some teachers and causing shortages that deny children the teachers they deserve.

Maryland's teachers unions collect tens of millions of dollars in dues and fees, which makes them a formidable political force in Annapolis, where their lobbyists maintain a near-stranglehold on education policy. By mandating that all teachers be represented, Maryland's lawmakers have given unions the financial means to influence the political process, which makes it difficult for our elected officials to enact important education reforms that unions oppose. One of those reforms is enabling teachers to become education entrepreneurs, a freedom that teachers deserve and the public needs.

Tom Neumark is a visiting fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute. His e-mail is tneumark@mdpolicy.org.

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