Teacher Contract Negotiation Strategies

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will look at some of the common teacher contract negotiation strategies that teachers working with a union or individually with the help of a private attorney may benefit from when negotiating their contracts.

Renewing the Contract

The first contract you ever get for a teaching job is probably not the best offer out there, so when it's time to renew your teaching contract, it helps to have an understanding of different teacher contract negotiation strategies. Many teachers are members of a teacher's union. A union is a group of activists, lobbyists, and lawyers who advocate on behalf of workers. if you are not a member of a union, you may consider hiring an attorney who specializes in workers' rights. Negotiating a contract alone without the help of a union or attorney is not recommended, unless you have extensive experience reading, interpreting or working with contracts and labor laws. Let's take a look at how unions and attorneys work to help individual teachers get a better offer.

Negotiating with a Union

Unions work because there is strength in numbers. Unions amplify the voice of one employee by adding the voices of all its members and using a strategy called collective bargaining to maximize their impact. For example, there is a union for school administrators, for teachers and for auxiliary staff. These unions represent the different needs of each of these groups.

Membership dues in these unions cover the costs of drafting new legislation, lobbying Congress for better working conditions, and providing other services like contract negotiations between the teacher and the school board. There are two national teachers unions: The National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Each state may have other smaller teachers unions that provide similar opportunities for advocacy at the state level.

There are several typical steps in a collective bargaining contract negotiation, some of which are determined by state and federal law, others determined by language in the contract. Interested parties should begin preparing about two or three months before and initial meeting. This preparation should involve surveying administration staff for recommendations about contract changes that would benefit management, a review of any grievances or issues that may influence what the union may propose in the new agreement, and contact information for team members.

The union has background information relevant to the case such as: cost of living adjustment (COLA) increases, COLA increases from other districts, consumer price index (CPI) or other measurements of inflation, salary rankings, cost to provide COLA and how many members are eligible to show the cost of providing a 1% COLA, and health benefits information. Unions also have access to the trends in employment data that helps create evidence to justify the negotiation.

Preparing to negotiate requires meeting with the superintendent to determine required protocols, contract language and other recommendations. The team members may need board approval so assemble the team under a chief negotiator with experience in all the required elements in the process. The union may offer to provide training to district administration and the school board on the collective bargaining process of contract negotiations.

When determining who should be members of the collective bargaining team, there are several things to consider, like whether school board members will be on the team or if the board be represented by a spokesperson or consultant. It is also important to identify and articulate the different roles and responsibilities of each team member and ensure that each member of the bargaining team has the necessary expertise and information needed to fill their roles.

So you have assembled a crack team of experts to be your negotiators, you have identified the chief negotiator who can coordinate the efforts. You have compiled your research of financial and benefits related employment data for your district and competing districts for comparison and have all this evidence in a notebook with enough copies to hand out to everyone. You even know which formats and protocols are specific to your state and district. Because you have a union, much of this legwork has been done for you so your mental energy can be spent on teaching.

Only about half of teachers are members of a teacher's union for one reason or another. For example:

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