Collective Bargaining — It Makes Your Contract Legally Binding

Bargaining is a democratic process u2014 one in which every union member has a say. That’s worth protecting.

You probably know that every several years your local education association negotiates the employment contracts for educators through the collective bargaining process. It’s serious business and a very big deal.

Collective bargaining is so important that it’s part of the Education Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, which gives certified and non-certified public education employees the right to collectively bargain their employment contracts.

It works like this: your local association negotiations team, made up of members like you and professional union staff, negotiates with local board of education representatives the policies that guide your work life — it’s labor and management coming to the table to exchange positions, mutually solve problems, and reach a written agreement.

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Collective bargaining is at its heart a legal process — that’s what makes your contract a legally binding document that protects your rights as an employee. But it’s also a democratic process — one in which every union member has a say. Your local uses surveys, building meetings, and conversations to take the pulse of every member — finding out what’s important to each and why, and preps proposals based on that input to take to the bargaining table. It’s inher-ently democratic at the bargaining table, too, because both sides are considered equal under the law. It’s a level playing field.

Collective bargaining is a right you don’t want to lose. How can it be lost? Through the policies of misguided elected officials who want to take away the rights of working people to influence and improve their work life through higher wages, better benefits, and safer and more humane workplaces. So your vote matters. A lot.

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What affects a union’s ability to achieve a good contract? Besides education-friendly elected officials, it’s the strength of the union itself. How many members are there? How active are they in voicing their opinions and rallying around issues? Will members step up to organize and mobilize in crisis? Is the union strong enough to push back against anti-worker agendas like the one Governor Scott Walker led in Wisconsin, where respected contracts have been replaced with flimsy handbooks that offer no guarantee of rights, practice, or policy?

When he was elected governor in 2010, Walker stripped collective bargaining rights from teachers and other public-sector employees.

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The result? Wisconsin teachers now earn less than they did seven years ago; the number of people entering teacher training programs in Wisconsin dropped 28%; the number of teachers in the state dropped 2%; and in August 2016, in an effort to increase the teacher applicant pool, the state superintendent of schools increased emergency teaching licenses.

Under Walker, a rapidly increasing number of custodial and transportation jobs are now outsourced to private companies with veteran employees laid off, then left to fight for the same job with lower wages, fewer benefits, and less job security. “What are we going to do with half our pay?” said one longtime worker.

Scott Walker and management have all the cards in Wisconsin. With no pro- tections under a contract, all educators have is an employee handbook unilaterally imposed by their district. In Maryland, collective bargaining for educators is guaranteed — ensuring, through your union, a contract that provides protections, security, due process, and recourse. That’s something worth protecting.