Freedom Foundation

Union Saber-Rattling Demonstrates Need for Bargaining Transparency

The Seattle Education Association recently threatened a strike after getting a 10.5 percent pay raise last year. The Kennewick teachers union, likewise, has disrupted the start of school for children with its pay demands. Meanwhile, teachers in Toutle Lake School District have blocked the state’s “paramount duty” to educate children because of their pay demands this year despite a 17 percent raise last year.

Teachers are also threatening a strike against the families of Ellensburg and LaCenter.

What do they want? How does it impact other services the districts provide? What other tradeoffs are offered at the bargaining table?

Individuals, families, taxpayers, other district employees and even union members commonly do not know given the absurd custom of making these critical budget-busting decisions behind closed doors.

But bargaining reaches beyond just salaries and budget priorities.

The Seattle Education Association has previously negotiated in favor of more than 100 individuals receiving a $2,500 stipend to be part of some schools’ “Racial Equity Teams.” Other districts negotiate away the ability of the district to get community volunteer help with projects or activities.

Some even negotiate to add hurdles to parent visits to their children’s classrooms.

Any school board could enlist the public to help consider the full ramifications of unreasonable bargaining table demands by adopting a transparency policy to allow the observation, livestreaming or immediate document disclosure of proceedings.

In the Pullman School District, WEA and board representatives have negotiated their teachers’ union contract in the open, and the sky didn’t fall.

In Oregon, where observed bargaining is the law, the school directors’ association representative reports that openness starts bargaining closer to compromise since extremes and stalling tactics are harder to explain to the public.

Further, the union tactic of deceiving the public about the elements of dispute and vilifying a district leadership team are removed by adding transparency – any bad actors on the management team are on display, but so are misstatements by the union.

The Washington Education Association has made opposition to a transparency policy a litmus test for its support of school board candidates. In this election cycle, half of the school board positions in the state are up for election.

Among the questions to ask school board candidates is what they think about permitting observed or livestreamed bargaining.