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Collective bargaining in the classroom

Interest- ​​based col­lec­tive bar­gaining with teachers unions could play an impor­tant role in improving edu­ca­tion and closing the achieve­ment gap in Mass­a­chu­setts public schools, according to a new report on public sector labor-​​management reform.

Barry Blue­stone, the founding dean of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, and Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nology pro­fessor Thomas A. Kochan coau­thored “Toward a Grand New Bar­gain: Col­lab­o­ra­tive Approaches to Labor-​​Management Reform in Mass­a­chu­setts.” The report was spon­sored by The Boston Foundation.

“The goal is to improve K through 12 edu­ca­tion,” said Blue­stone, who served as a “proud member of the United Auto Workers union” in the 1960s. “To that end, we need to make sure that teachers, super­in­ten­dents and prin­ci­pals are fully engaged in that effort.”

The new approach to labor-​​management rela­tions in the Commonwealth’s public schools would replace detailed work rules in com­plex con­tracts with a system of con­tin­uous problem solving through joint decision-​​making, Blue­stone said.

“When there is a problem, the par­ties will resolve it instead of cod­i­fying it in the next con­tract in lan­guage that, over time, cre­ates a dense web of rules and inflex­i­bility,” Blue­stone explained.

“Old style bar­gaining is based on con­flict and give and take,” he added. “Interest-​​based bar­gaining would allow both sides to explore their inter­ests and find out where they coincide.”

The labor-​​management reform plan, which may include com­pen­sa­tion and performance-​​based pay prac­tices for teachers, would fea­ture a statewide academy to train union leaders, school super­in­ten­dents and school com­mittee mem­bers in interest-​​based bar­gaining. A pilot pro­gram for at least one school dis­trict may be up and run­ning within the next three to six months, Blue­stone said.

Edu­ca­tion stake­holders, such as teachers, par­ents and prin­ci­pals, would also be granted access to an online Mass­a­chu­setts Learning Net­work, where inter­ested par­ties could share common experiences.

“The online system would allow us to very quickly dis­tribute our best prac­tices across the state,” Blue­stone said. “It would be a way of making sure people used the latest and best infor­ma­tion in designing their own interest-​​based bar­gaining systems.”

Blue­stone hopes to apply a mod­i­fied ver­sion of those col­lec­tive bar­gaining strate­gies to resolve labor-​​management con­flict among other state employees, such as fire­fighters and police officers.

He praised North­eastern for con­ducting such ground­breaking applied community-​​based research. “We are really engaged with the com­mu­nity and have a pas­sion for solving crit­ical prob­lems that face society,” he said. “North­eastern is one of the leading uni­ver­si­ties in the country devoted to this kind of work.”

– by Jason Kornwitz

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