Set Our Teachers Free!

Remarks of Matthew J. Brouillette, President & CEO, The Commonwealth Foundation

I’m Matthew Brouillette, president of The Commonwealth Foundation. Prior to moving into the world of public policy, I was a history teacher at both the secondary and post-secondary levels where I directly saw and experienced the negative impact of compulsory unionism on the teaching profession.

By treating teachers not as professionals but as factory assembly line workers, we are driving our best educators out of the public schools while simultaneously rewarding mediocrity and even incompetence in the classroom.

Although the factory model of organizing employees may work for the production of cars and candy, compulsory unionism harms teachers and hurts the teaching profession.

Yet despite my own refusal to join a union as a teacher and the unions’ detrimental effects on the quality of education, I still fully support every teacher’s right to voluntarily join and voluntarily pay dues to a labor union. This is a right protected by the US Constitution; and The Commonwealth Foundation will remain vigilant in protecting the right of individuals to join any association they wish.

I am, however, adamantly opposed to COMPULSORY unionism. No person should be forced to join or pay dues to a labor union as a condition of employment.

Compelling teachers to join and financially support a union against their will is legalized racketeering and extortion. In addition, by requiring teachers to submit to union salary schedules and work rules, current law forces our best and brightest teachers to accept less pay than they are worth.

Frequently we hear union bosses lament that teachers are not compensated as well as doctors, lawyers, or engineers. But unlike these other white-collar occupations, teaching remains one of the few professions where salaries have little or nothing to do with competency, demand, or performance. This condition exists because of the labor unions—not in spite of them. Instead of allowing teachers who excel in the classroom to seek compensation based on their merit, standardized union contracts protect and reward lackluster and uncreative teachers.

The “Pennsylvania Open Workforce Initiative” is the beginning of restoring to teachers the professionalism that they’ve been robbed of by the PSEA and PFT.

By freeing teachers from compulsory unionism, our best educators will be finally able to practice their profession like doctors, lawyers and engineers.

Freeing teachers from compulsory unionism will force schools to directly compete with each other to attract and retain good teachers. Administrators would need to provide appropriate financial rewards to teachers who excel or risk losing them to a competing school. Mediocre or incompetent teachers would be forced to improve their skills or choose another line of work.

By setting free the entrepreneurial spirit within the teaching profession, the professional possibilities become endless for educators. Of course, teachers could continue working for a school district, but they could also partner with other educators to form for-profit and non-profit instructional ventures. They could work for themselves in private practice. They could create consortiums and contract with schools for service. And on and on.

But the greatest benefit of liberating teachers is that by finally treating the teaching profession like other professional occupations, we will also dramatically improve our children’s educational opportunities.

In summation, schools are not factories, teachers are not assembly line workers, and our children are certainly not widgets. The factory model of compulsory unionism has failed Pennsylvania’s teachers, as well as its students.

Fortunately, the “Pennsylvania Open Workforce Initiative” will begin to restore to teachers the professionalism that they truly deserve and the quality of schools our children desperately need.

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The Commonwealth Foundation is a free-market public policy research and educational institute based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.