Think of the Children: Teacher Collective Bargaining

Cornell’s Michael Lovenheim and Alexander Willen had an article earlier this year in the journal Education Next discussing their research regarding teacher collective bargaining. “In this study,” they write,

we present the first evidence on how laws that support teacher collective bargaining affect students’ employment and earnings in adulthood. We do so by first examining how the outcomes of students educated in a given state changed after the state enacted a duty-to-bargain law, and then comparing those changes to what happened over the same time period in states that did not change their collective-bargaining policies.

We find no clear effects of collective-bargaining laws on how much schooling students ultimately complete. But our results show that laws requiring school districts to engage in collective bargaining with teachers unions lead students to be less successful in the labor market in adulthood. Students who spent all 12 years of grade school in a state with a duty-to-bargain law earned an average of $795 less per year and worked half an hour less per week as adults than students who were not exposed to collective-bargaining laws. They are 0.9 percentage points less likely to be employed and 0.8 percentage points less likely to be in the labor force. And those with jobs tend to work in lower-skilled occupations.

Lovenheim and Willen explain how states–beginning with Wisconsin in 1959–began passing “union-friendly legislation.” “Between 1959 and 1987, 33 states passed duty-to-bargain laws (see Figure 1); just 1 (New Mexico) has done so since. Of the 16 states without such a law, 9 have legislation that permits teachers unions and districts to bargain if both sides agree to do so. In the remaining 7 states (Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia), collective bargaining is prohibited either by statute or by court ruling[.]”

The debate over teacher collective bargaining is heated, which makes empirical evidence all the more important. The researchers found that teacher collective bargaining has several adverse long-term effects on children:

  • Earnings: “Attending school in a state with a duty-to-bargain law for all 12 years of schooling reduces later earnings by $795 dollars per year…This represents a decline in earnings of 1.9 percent relative to the average. Although the individual effect is modest, it translates into a large overall loss of earnings for the nation as a whole. In particular, our results suggest a total loss of $196 billion per year accruing to those who were educated in the 34 states with duty-to-bargain policies on the books.”
  • Hours worked: “exposure to a duty-to-bargain law throughout one’s school years is associated with a decline of 0.49 hours worked per week. This is a 1.4 percent decline relative to the average, and it suggests that a reduction in hours worked is a main driver of the lower earnings.”
  • Wages: “the evidence suggests a negative relationship between collective-bargaining exposure and wages. While this relationship is not statistically significant, it is consistent with our other results and suggests that teacher collective bargaining may also have a modest adverse effect on average wages.”
  • Employment: “when we use the share of individuals who are employed as the outcome variable, we find that duty-to-bargain laws reduce employment. Specifically, exposure to a duty-to-bargain law for all 12 years of schooling lowers the likelihood that a worker is employed by 0.9 percentage points.”
  • Occupational skill level: “being exposed to a duty-to-bargain law for all 12 years of schooling decreases the proportion of such workers in an occupation by almost half of a percentage point (or 0.6 percent relative to the average). This effect is modest in size, but it implies that teacher collective bargaining leads students to work in occupations requiring lower levels of skill.”
  • Educational attainment: “The reduced earnings and labor force participation associated with teacher collective bargaining raise the possibility that affected students may have completed less education. Our analysis, however, finds little evidence of bargaining power having a significant effect on how much schooling students completed…Even if students do not complete fewer years of education, they may be acquiring fewer skills while they are in school.”

The authors note that “in 2011 Wisconsin passed legislation that greatly reduced the ability of teachers to bargain with school districts…and in 2014 Michigan passed a public employee right-to-work law that sought to limit union negotiating power. Not surprisingly, teachers unions and their allies responded to these laws with fierce opposition.” Yet, the “results suggest that lawmakers in Wisconsin and Michigan have evidence on their side.”

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