Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Protecting the Status Quo in Collective Bargaining: The Role of Teachers' Unions in State Politics

Friday, November 13, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Bradley D. Marianno, University of Southern California
Over several decades, collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) have expanded and evolved to become one of the primary ways in which teachers’ unions influence the American education system (Hess & Kelly, 2006; Hill, 2006). Recently, parents, students, and other education stakeholders have taken action to tackle what they perceive to be the teachers’ union’s stronghold in education, as demonstrated by recent lawsuits heard by state courts (e.g. Vergara vs. the State of California) that seek to overturn codified language protecting a number of provisions found in CBAs. These court cases coincide with a general movement to limit the power and rights of public sector unions following the 2008 economic downturn. Specifically, the sharp decline in state revenues during the Great Recession placed overwhelming demands on state budgets, leading to a series of proposed bills that some scholars labeled as the “war on public sector collective bargaining” (Freeman & Han, 2012).

Given the growing negative attention surrounding unions in public schooling, teachers unions have gone on the defensive. In particular, unions have sought to mobilize lobbying efforts at the state and national level. For example, the National Education Association (NEA) expended more than 8 million dollars on campaign contributions and advertisements in a short three month time period in an attempt to influence last November’s mid-term elections (Camera, 2014). Unions have also expended money on lobbying directly for and against legislation, their most recent efforts focusing on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Camera, 2015).

The success of teachers’ unions in gaining influence in policy-setting is an open empirical question. A small body of research suggests that teachers’ unions wield some political influence (Hartney & Flavin, 2011; Moe, 2011), however, this work is limited due to difficulties in identification and measurement (Cowen & Strunk, 2015). This paper extends this limited body of research by bringing to bear a unique, self-collected dataset of state-level legislation. Specifically, I utilize archives available from the National Conference on State Legislatures and Lexis Nexis State Capital to collect all proposed legislation from 2011 to 2014 related to the scope and impact of teacher CBAs. Using this dataset of over 3000 state laws, I examine the relationship between state-level teachers’ union strength (as measured by the proportion of teachers’ unions’ contributions to parties and candidates, teachers’ union dues per teacher, teachers’ union expenditures per student in a state, and union size) and the success and/or failure of CBA-related legislation.  I find that, although state teachers’ union strength does not appear to directly influence the number and types of legislation proposed in state legislatures, union strength does influence the outcome of specific bills.  Importantly, this influence is not achieved directly through union finances, but through the overall size of the union. For example, I find that a given unfavorable CBA law is more likely to fail as the size of the union increases.