Uproar in Ogden: middleman frets about losing its clout


Much ado has been made by several groups (e.g., here and here) opposed to the Ogden School District’s (OSD) decision to move to a performance-based pay system for teachers.

Photo credit: Joe Rowley

A key part of their objections is a perceived lack of teacher involvement in the decision of the district to move towards a performance-based pay system.

First, a little clarification. When the opponents to the OSD plan say “teachers,” what they really mean is the “union” (aka the teachers association). To these groups, the union is the teachers and vice versa, though, in reality, many individual teachers have different interests and different views than the union as an organization.

For instance, despite the fact that the Ogden teachers union counseled its nearly 500 members (out of roughly 550 classroom teachers in OSD) to wait to sign the upcoming year’s teaching contracts so it could consider legal options for fighting the district’s decision, within two days after the contracts were sent out nearly 20 percent of OSD teachers had signed their contracts. Clearly, many rank-and-file teachers in Ogden do not share the union’s concern about the school district’s decision.

In any case, since the opponents of the OSD decision equate the union with “teachers,” what their opposition really boils down to is that the union was not involved in the decision to move toward a performance-based pay system for teachers. And on its face, this is true. The district circumvented the union by deciding to move toward a performance-based pay system for teachers and by sending this year’s teaching contracts directly to the teachers themselves, rather than going through the union.

Of course, the district had to take actions like this because the process of going through the union to produce a teaching contract (collective bargaining) had failed to produce a contract for several years running. No one, not even the union, disputes this fact – although the union prefers descriptors like “negotiations have stalled” and “reached an impasse” over the term “failed.”

In other words, while the union is complaining that it did not have a seat at the table in the current contract, a big reason for this is that its presence at the table resulted in no contract being produced! The union would have everyone believe that the blame rests solely on the school district and its “bad faith” tactics (a classic political ploy). But as the only other participant in the negotiations, the union is partly responsible for the outcome. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango.

The fact of the matter is that the current contract, by sidestepping the union, is actually likely to increase the involvement of rank-and-file teachers in the process. According to OSD Superintendent Noel Zabriskie, one of the reasons for not implementing the performance-pay plan immediately is to get input and feedback from teachers as they move forward to create the plan. Further, by working with teachers directly rather than only through the union, the school district will be able to get teacher input firsthand, rather than filtered by the union middle man who has an interest in making sure that the performance-pay system does not lessen the union’s influence.

And that strikes at the heart of the union’s objection to the OSD decision. As a middleman, the union gains power and influence when the district goes through it to communicate and negotiate with teachers. The union’s real worry is that it will lose this power and influence, which explains the recent comments from representatives of teachers unions across Utah stating their worry about the “precedent” the OSD decision sets. Similarly, this explains a conspiracy-theory-like comment from the head of the state teachers union, describing the OSD decision as part of “an attempt to dismantle the [teachers] association.”

For the middleman in public education, it is first and foremost about power.

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  • Jay Blain

    I must disagree with your reasoning on a few points and clarify a point that is just wrong. 

    The OEA followed State law completely through their negotiation process.  The board rejected the fact finders findings in May.  OEA accepted them completely.  I don’t see how this is a means that their presence at the table resulted in the outcome that has happened. 

    Your reasoning that the association should represent teachers because some teachers may have different viewpoints is flawed.  This type of representation happens all the time.  One example is in government.  Surely you have been represented at some point by a elected official with whom you didn’t agree with all of the time.  Did this mean he or she shouldn’t be your representative?  Generally speaking the goal of an association is to represent the “good of the order.”  If the members don’t like what their officers are doing, they can vote in different ones, they can run for office themselves, or vote with their membership.  Ogden members seem to be reasonably content based on their high percentage of voluntary membership.

    The association does not have any inherent views unto itself.  Any views come from the members.  The OEA is the teachers in Ogden.  They govern it.  So to say that “many individual teachers have different interests and different views than the union as an organization,” is not true.  Yes, there are always divergent opinions within any organization but to imply that the union is way out of line from the rank and file is not true. 

    Negotiating individually with every teacher in the state would be a process that would be too onerous to ever be implemented.  Collaborative negotiating between school boards and teacher representatives has served our districts well for many decades.  In spite of politically charged I think it can continue to serve us well into the future.

    • Matthew Piccolo

      “Negotiating individually with every teacher in the state would be a process that would be too onerous to ever be implemented.”

      To my knowledge, this is how just about every other government employee and employee in the private sector in Utah negotiates his/her employment. Even as a fast-food worker during high school I negotiated my own salary with the owner. Of course, a standard contract is often already in place, but most everyone is able to negotiate his/her salary, and, in many cases, benefits, within that general agreement based on his/her qualifications. Even professional athletes who are unionized have a standard collective bargaining agreement but sign individual contracts with team owners. And these contracts are often multi-year agreements, which makes the process that much more practical.

      Individual contracts with teachers would be simple to create. Just do what everyone else does.

      • tiredoffighting

        Sorry Matthew but teachers who are members of their association did try to negotiate individually. They went into the office and were told there would be no changes to the contract. This is proof positive that the district in not interested in negotiating with individuals but rather imposes their ideology onto the teachers.

        This is not about pay. It is about being asked to sign a contract which you have had no input. Even in the private sector, negotiation still means both sides have input. You clearly stated that “even as a fast-food worker during high school I negotiated my own salary with the owner.”

        The Board of Education rejected former Utah Supreme Court Judge, Michael Zimmerman’s findings of fact. The Ogden Education Association accepted his findings. Those are the facts.

        Please supply the facts as they exist in this case, not what you think are the facts but the truth.

        • Derek H Monson

          I think that you’re confusing the teacher’s opportunity to give input with the union getting its way. Both the teachers and the union have had, and continue to have, the opportunity to offer their input to the district about the current teacher. However, that does not entitle them to just get their way in contract negotiations.

          Any teacher in Ogden and/or the union itself can go to the district to give them their input about the contract that they’ve been given. But just like the teacher’s have that right to give their input, the district has the right to choose whether or not to accept it. They are the employer, and that is their prerogative. When Matt says that he negotiated his salary as a fast-food worker, that doesn’t mean that he told the restaurant what he wanted and they just gave it to him. It means he gave his input to his employer, the employer chose to either to change or not change the contract based on that input, and Matt accepted the result.

          You’re really hung up on the single fact that the school district rejected the findings of fact. But the reality is that the fact-finding process was only one part of a bigger, failed negotiation process. If it’s relevant that the school district rejecting the findings of fact, it’s equally relevant that the OEA refused to agree to the district’s original contract offer, which led them to request fact-finding in the first place. It was all part of a larger, failed collective bargaining process in which both sides share responsibility.

    • Derek H Monson


      The OEA was intimately involved in all steps of the failed collective bargaining negotiations – no one disputes this fact. That is why they are partly responsible for the failed negotiations, which is what I argued. You simply can’t credibly argue that only one side or the other is at fault. That’s like the two parties in D.C. arguing that the “only reason” we haven’t reached a debt deal is because of the other side. If they were both at the table, they are both responsible for the result, not just one or the other. The same is true of recent years’ Ogden teacher contract negotiations.

      To your second point, your description of my reasoning is inaccurate. I haven’t argued that the association shouldn’t represent teachers because of teacher’s individual views. I have argued that going around the union does not equate with cutting teachers out of the process. With the assumptions underlying your thinking (“the OEA is the teachers in Ogden”), it is probably impossible for you to agree with me on this issue. We may simply have to agree to disagree on this one.

      Matt provides a good response to your last point. The only thing I’d add is to dispute your belief that collective bargaining has served Utah school districts well for decades. Collective bargaining in Utah has produced some of the lowest teacher salaries in the nation and has produced a pay system that has little connection to improved student outcomes. I don’t know how you can equate that with being served well by collective bargaining.

  • tiredoffighting

    Please report the facts! What happened to integrity in journalism? The Ogden School Board rejected the findings of fact not the teachers.

    • Derek H Monson

      I did report the facts.

      I didn’t say that “the teachers” (by which I assume you mean the union) rejected the findings of fact. On the contrary, one of the links that I included in my blog post contains a letter from the union clearly stating that the school board rejected the findings of fact.

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