Mounting Interest in Labor-Management Collaboration

Several notable conferences have been held recently on labor-management collaboration, engaging teams of management and union leaders. In 2010, the AFT, along with scholars from university labor-management programs, organized the first National Conference on Collaborative School Reform (see "Strengthening Partnerships"). District teams of union leaders and administrators from 35 districts across the country came to learn about collaborative models of school improvement under way in Toledo, Ohio; St. Francis, Minnesota; and Norfolk, Virginia, among other AFT locals, and to discuss how labor-management collaboration might help their own districts.

In 2011 and 2012, with support from the Ford Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the GE Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education sponsored two conferences focused on labor-management collaboration. More than 150 state and local school district teams, composed of the superintendent, the local union president, and the board of education president, participated in the first conference, held in Denver, which focused on the core principles of labor-management collaboration. Around 100 district teams and 15 state teams participated in the second conference, in Cincinnati, whose theme was transforming the teaching profession.

Seven national organizations—the AFT, the National Education Association, the American Association of School Administrators, the National School Boards Association, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, the Council of the Great City Schools, and the Council of Chief State School Officers—cosponsored these conferences and signed onto a joint statement in support of labor-management collaboration, available at

What makes these conferences noteworthy is not only the prominent organizations that sponsored them, but also the requirement that, in order to attend, each team had to make an explicit commitment to work together to advance student learning. These meetings also provided important opportunities for sharing what the real details of collaboration look like, by highlighting the partnerships under way in a handful of districts and states.

Recognition of the importance of labor-management collaboration is growing. School districts and their labor counterparts across the country are working to create structures in collective bargaining agreements that not only support collaboration but use collaboration as a vehicle for change. Notably, in 2010, a landmark new contract was ratified in the Baltimore City Public Schools to radically change how teachers are evaluated and compensated. Moving away from the traditional salary schedule, the contract called for the development of a career pathways system to be designed by teachers and management. This system was phased in over time and is monitored by a Joint Oversight Committee and a Joint Governing Panel of representatives from the Baltimore Teachers Union and the Baltimore City Public Schools. The effectiveness of the career pathways system will be evaluated after a few years of implementation. When facing a similar opportunity, the union president and the superintendent in Cleveland reached out to the Baltimore team and national staff at the AFT for technical assistance prior to entering into contract negotiations. Similarly, the New Haven Public Schools in Connecticut, with leadership from AFT President Randi Weingarten, became one of the first locals to adopt a model of teacher development and support that is targeted at overall district achievement. Successful union-management partnerships also exist in the ABC Unified School District in California,* the Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida, and the Plattsburgh City School District in New York.


*For more on the ABC Unified School District, see "From Picket Line to Partnership," in the Spring 2009 issue of American Educator.

Reprinted from American Educator, Winter 2013–2014

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American Educator, Winter 2013-2014