Imagine a New Labor Model for Colorado Teachers and K-12 School Employees

It may be a little off the topic of K-12 education, but it’s very relevant to many who work in Colorado’s public school system. The Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF) has published a new book titled Sweeping the Shop Floor: A New Labor Model for America.

The old industrial labor monopolies that seemed to work for a different era have wreaked damage on Detroit, California and many other places. In its press release, EFF proposes something different:

In response, the study proposes that the United States modernize its labor laws based on reforms successfully implemented several decades ago in New Zealand. The highly regulated nation found itself on the brink of bankruptcy by the late 1980s. New Zealand’s political leaders passed a series of sweeping economic and labor policy reforms modernizing the nation’s labor laws. In 1991 the Employment Contracts Act gave workers the choice of whether or not to be represented, and also made unions compete for members.

Over five years, unemployment dropped from 11 percent to 6 percent and productivity increased significantly.

“This new piece of legislation was not only a boon to New Zealand’s economy, but also had a strong social impact on its citizens,” says Mike Reitz, General Counsel for the Freedom Foundation and a co-author of the study. “People were allowed to create flexible working arrangements with their employers and receive compensation based on their unique skills and talents rather than on rigid union contracts.”

So how does this tie into Colorado education?

My Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow wrote a short chapter for Sweeping the Shop Floor titled: “Is New Zealand’s Employment Contracts Act Right for Colorado?”

State law governs labor relations in the public sector, no area of which is bigger in Colorado than K-12 education. Ben speculates on whether Colorado could adopt this approach that would grant teachers and other public school employees the right to choose not only which union or other organization they belong to but also whether they want to be represented at all.

Under a Colorado version of the Employment Contracts Act, labor unions still would have the opportunity to exist and serve the needs of K-12 and other governmental employees. Nevertheless, unions would lose their privileged status under Colorado law. Individual teachers and other government workers could opt to be represented by a union or some other association, private agency or themselves.

The bottom line? Colorado with its current statutes and policies is closer to adopting the Employment Contracts Act model than many other states, but still it would take tremendous vision and political will to enact the change. And first we would have to debate the pluses and minuses of the policy, though EFF’s book provides a lot of evidence of the Act’s success as well as suggestions for how to improve the model.

I know it seems long and boring, but do my friend a favor and please read the article (pg 86 of book, pg 104 of PDF).