Many of the items covered under Chapter 20 of Iowa’s Code (Collective Bargaining for Public Employees) are neither known nor understood by those who don’t work in the public sector. Because their purpose and values are not commonly understood it follows that private employees and the legislators they represent may look at them as unnecessary luxuries that the rest of the workforce gets on just fine without. Case in point: the employment conditions of public school teachers are also the educational conditions for over 480,000 Iowa public school students. These provisions are invaluable not only to public school teachers, but to the very Iowans they serve.
I’ve been hired by some of the best administrators in the State of Iowa. I’ve gone on to work with several, but I was the last hire of a long career for a few. Most administrators are highly skilled experts in running school buildings and districts. Some are better communicators than others, but all are initiative-driven, school-improvement minded people. Most love kids and teachers and seek to foster positive relationships between these two fundamental elements of a school.
However, sometimes our well-intentioned administrators have well-intentioned, yet bad ideas. Collective representation has certainly protected my students from these kinds of situations. It has protected the educational foundation of my job. Without it I’m sure educational goals would be less important than the number of kids I can serve in a day and the experience would simply be state-funded day care.
In a well-functioning organization it is the role of a union representing all teachers to call a principal, HR director, or superintendent out on misuses of manpower, contradictions to the contract, due process violations, or other actions that violate either national, state or local educational policies. Removing collective bargaining in the areas of evaluation, transfer, staff reduction, and grievance procedures removes teacher voices from the conversation of how schools are managed, measured, and cared for. The same is true for our other public sector colleagues: Nurses, social workers, corrections officers, public works, public safety, police, and firefighters all work in environments where the ability to question and negotiate management issues is a much more important issue than how much profit the organization is going to bring in.
The removal of collective bargaining rights reinforces authoritarian top-down management and quells dissent. Unfortunately that refrain is becoming all too familiar these days.