How do teacher contract negotiations work?

Probably varies but in general…

Putting aside restrictions or ground rules that are determined by the Feds or the states, when teachers negotiate at the local level who is involved?

Is it just the local vs the school board?

Or does each side bring in more powerful parties? I can imagine state or national union people being involved… I’m not sure who else might get involved on the other side.

In Pennsylvania, the union local negotiates with the board. Each side has their own negotiations committee. These are the people who actually meet with each other. Each side has its own chief negotiator. These are the only people who are supposed to actually speak to the other side during the negotiations. The chief negotiator can be from a given side’s committe or can be a “hired gun.” Boards often use their solicitor as their chief negotiator, for example, or may hire an outside lawyer who specializes in negotiating. Union locals may choose one of their own as chief negotiator or may bring in a rep from PSEA to represent them. It is legal, but not considered good form for union local presidents or district superintendants to be at the table.

In New York, it’s the local teachers and the local school board.

After he retired from teaching, the teachers local chief contract negotiator ran for our school board, and was elected.

I had a problem with this at the time, and as time goes by, I am even more annoyed . . .

Most of the time it’s just one local union negotiator and the superintendent (or, as Scumpup says, their representatives.) If there’s a problem, it can get bumped up to negotiating teams.

Here’s where it starts to vary by state and local practice. In my state, the union can ask for third-party mediators to be brought in. But, the school board doesn’t have to agree. In other states, there can be mediators involved but not binding arbitration, while in others, there may be a process for binding aribtration.

If the school district is in receivership, the contract has to be approved by the overseers, as well.

Mediators can become involved here in PA, as well. Our most recent contract took two years to negotiate and the state assigned a mediator to help things along. It can also go to binding arbitration but, unless negotiations have broken completely down, neither side typically wants to go that route. Binding arbitration is a gamble for both sides. The state maintains a roster of arbitrators. The PSEA tracks decisions from these people and knows who skews towards favoring unions and who skews towards favoring school boards. There is a selection process for which arbitrator you eventually end up with, but both sides risk getting an arbitrator who will favor the other side.

In Cleveland, it usually boiled down to the union and the court system together trying to get the school board to obey the laws. I guess you could say that the state legislature that passed the laws in the first place was on the union’s side, too.

No advising by higher level union people during the process?

… or by other state government people if the current admin happens to be anti-union?

We have a negotiation team made up of several teachers from each level of education(elementary, middle, and high school).

Anyway, they meet with the school board’s representatives(who have a lawyer, too I guess). They go back and forth and try to come to an agreement.

That’s it.

It usually isn’t necessary. Bargaining is primarily over salary and benefits. Most of the other stuff in the contract is either standard or has already been codified by state law or court rulings.

During the 30 years my wife was a teacher, ther are only three times I can recall the local calling in the national union folks.

  1. Hiring vocational teachers at a higher pay scale than academic teachers. Strictly speaking, that was already covered in the contract, but the implementation was a sticking point.

  2. Converting the pension plan from a traditional defined benefit to a 401K-style defined contribution. Again, this was basically a done deal (it was a decision by the state, not the local district), but the national came in to help work out the details.

  3. Back in the early 1980s there was a lot of discussion about how to bring computer technology into the classroom. What programs the teachers needed to learn, would training be considered in-service or on their own time, how would teachers be reimbursed for their own software purchases and classes they took, etc. That really was new ground, and both the district and the union brought in outside experts for advice.

The fact is, what a school district and its teachers can do is pretty tightly controlled by state and federal law. There are guidelines for teacher certification, the length and number of school days that have to be taught, what courses are required for graduation, etc., etc. Local contract negotiations often boil down to salary, benefits, professional development and work rules – all very local issues.

Like everybody else, local school board and local union. Our current negotiations are over furlough days and class size.

Exactly right. It has been my experience that when negotiations completely break down it is often because personal animosity is involved, rather than any huge contract issue. This is one reason superintendants and union presidents are discouraged from being at the negotiating table.

The current big issues in my wife’s district, which is making the negotiotions more protracted than normal, is that the school budgets are being cut drastically, so the district has to negotiate with the teachers about furlough days, class size increases, and the elimination of certain positions (such as art, music, PE, and science teachers) in the elementary schools. When those specialists are eliminated the main classroom teachers have to teach those subjects instead, which increases their workload.