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Volume 28, Number 6
November/December 2012

The Push for Progressive Unionism

New players join efforts to promote union-management collaboration


The news about teacher unions typically feels adversarial: contract impasses, threats to collective bargaining, and strikes, like the bitter one in Chicago that captured national attention in September.

Look more closely, though, and you’ll see unions and districts collaborating on the quiet work of improving student achievement.

Collaboration in New Haven, Conn.—a national model for how teachers and district officials can work together—has been so successful that teachers this year negotiated control of the turnaround of the city’s High School in the Community. When officials in Seminole County, Fla., designed a teacher evaluation system in accordance with the state’s Race to the Top promises, teachers were at the table. Memphis unions are working with the district on evaluations, too, as well as reforms to the salary schedule and the development of a mentoring program.

Such union-management collaboration is sometimes called “new” or “progressive” unionism, but it is not actually new at all. In fact, some districts have been practicing it for decades. One effort, the Teachers Union Reform Network (TURN), a collective of like-minded local unions, has been finding ways since 1996 to upend the traditional collective bargaining model by focusing on cooperative rather than contentious negotiation strategies and by bringing teachers to the table to join in decisions on curriculum and other areas where they typically haven’t played roles before.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


Also by this Author

    For Further Information

    For Further Information

    K. Futernick, S. McClellan, and S. Vince. Forward, Together: Better Schools Through Labor-Management Collaboration. San Francisco, CA: WestEd, 2012.

    Glenview District 34’s Constitution

    S. Rosenberg and E. Silva. Trending Toward Reform: Teachers Speak on Unions and the Future of the Profession. Washington, D.C.: Education Sector, 2012.

    Teachers Union Reform Network

    U.S. Department of Education Labor-Management Collaboration