Monday, February 21, 2011

Why The Teachers In Wisconsin Are Wrong

I've received several emails asking why I haven't commented on the Wisconsin debacle, and the reason is that I wanted to gather some information and try to add something more than just a "me too" post about it. I think I'm ready now.

Let me begin by pointing out that I understand why the teachers are angry--they're worried about more money coming out of their pockets. The governor wants them to start kicking in for their own retirements (no!) and to pay for 1/8 of their health care costs (horrors!). Neither of those is unreasonable, but since they haven't had to pay for them before, they will see less take-home pay if the measure passes. Additionally, the governor's plan will place limits on what types of workplace issues can be bargained collectively.

I've seen interviews with some of the protesters who claim that they understand about the money, but it's the collective bargaining they're concerned about. I don't believe them, but let's assume for a moment that that's true for one or two of them. What's being proposed is only a return to the status quo 2008:

Mr. Walker also wants to limit the power of public-employee unions to negotiate contracts and work rules—something that 24 states already limit or ban.

The governor's move is in reaction to a 2009 law implemented by the then-Democratic legislature that expanded public unions' collective-bargaining rights and lifted existing limits on teacher raises.

Since Wisconsin is widely recognized as the state where "progressivism" began or held the most sway, I'm having a hard time believing that Wisconsin's teachers toiled in sweatshop conditions until the 2009 law was passed. The democratically-elected governor, who hasn't felt the need to tell anyone "I won" in order to try to get his policies approved, is merely trying to rein in a public union that has been given too much leeway.

And because of this he's compared to Mubarak, Mussolini, Hitler, et al, and legislators have actually left the state to avoid a quorum in a state senate otherwise sure to pass the bill.

As a teacher, though, I'm appalled at the behavior of the teachers (and of the doctors that lie for them). We tell students to follow the rules, and these teachers lie about being sick in order to continue to be paid--from public funds!--while protesting a reasonable law. We teach students about civil disobedience, but these teachers act like a mob. Civil disobedience involves violating an unjust law, hoping to be arrested in order to draw attention to the need to change the unjust law; that is not what is happening in Wisconsin. We teach children that it's a sign of maturity to accept the consequences of one's actions, but these teachers get doctors to write notes which illegally claim the teachers truly are sick so that the teachers don't get in trouble for violating both their own contracts as well as state law (more on that here and here and here). We tell children how important their education is, how they're our top priority, but these teachers shut schools down for 4 days in a row in order to throw a temper tantrum.

In other words, those teachers are, for their own selfish purposes, violating every major tenet of socially acceptable behavior that we teach in our schools. Their lessons are now "just words", and their students, like all people, will absorb the lessons based on actions to a much greater degree than those of mere rhetoric. These teachers have dealt a crippling blow to their own credibility.

These teachers, and their union bosses have demonstrated far better than any Republican could why teachers unions need to be curtailed, and they certainly show why none other than President Franklin Roosevelt himself was against public sector unions. Governor Walker's plan to require that the union be recertified every year, and to limit what can be bargained, are simple ways to start curtailing that power and influence.

Let the curtailing begin.

Update: I'm not the only teacher who feels this way.

Update #2: Joanne's round-up is, as you would expect, exceptional.

Update #3, 2/23/11: A wise way of looking at things:
To Republicans, the budget fight has involved the widespread shirking of responsibilities: teachers walking out on students, legislators running away from their offices, even doctors abandoning medical standards to make excuses for perfectly healthy teacher/protesters. To Democrats, the fight has touched a core issue; anything is justified to preserve union benefits.

Update #4, 2/23/11: How could I forget this one?
Unions take to the streets to defend their collective bargaining agreements... which ban work stoppages and "any unauthorized concerted activity."

Update #5, 2/24/11: Another teacher (and frequent commenter here at RotLC) weighs in.

13 comments:

Eric Turner said...

I don't know if my last post was sent/accepted.

You should read the attached article. You'll enjoy it, particularly his comments about "collective bargaining".

http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=15445

Anonymous said...

Wow. You know why the protesters are angry. You. The anti-union guy. You get it. It's all about the money issues.

The protesters, themselves, have conceded on ALL the money issues and are actually protesting the loss of collective bargaining rights.

No. They must be lying. You don't believe them. You don't believe them and you don't agree with them. They're greedy for the money. That you can understand, while still not agreeing with them.

You like the Walker plan to essentially break the union. You. The anti-union guy.

Knock me over with a feather!

mazenko said...

Both you and Joanne are naively ignoring the significant role organized labor and collective bargaining have played in the middle class life and profession you have. How quaint for middle class Americans to naively long for the days before progressive policies. As if the safety and security of the rights of working people in this country just happen and the days of robber barons never happened and couldn't be repeated. I hate to resort to the cliche of "those who don't know history .." but in this case it sadly applies. And it's quite sad, not to mention ridiculous, for someone who lost his private sector job because a corrupt and under-regulated business community to believe that public sector workers who maintain their community standards should lose rights. Is that some twisted sense of solidarity or just kicking the dog out of frustration?

Darren said...

Actually, anonymous, I support the concept of unions. I support the voluntary association of people who band together to do more than any could individually. What I oppose is *forced* unionism, wherein a union is by statute *entitled* to my money, whether they represent me or not. I oppose being compelled to give my money to a union as a condition of employment, and that union's being allowed to give it to politicians with which I disagree.

I believe in Right To Work laws, which by extension compel a union to represent *all* its members or risk losing those members.

Wow, I'm as un-American as it gets, huh?

Darren said...

I'm not naive--and you know better.

Unions served a purpose 100 years ago or more, but they've certainly outgrown any good they did. They need to be curtailed *now*. I don't discount what they did 100 years ago, but that's done--it's what they're doing *today* that's important, and what they're doing today isn't good.

Using your logic, everyone should vote Republican because it was Republicans who were anti-slavery and the Democrats who, for over 50 years after the Civil War, advertised themselves as the "white man's party" as they controlled the South.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mazenko said...

Darren, you know I respect your intelligence, knowledge, and positions. But your argument that unions have outlived, or ever will outlive, usefulness is definitely naive. Such a position implies that human nature itself has changed and that America has somehow moved beyond exploitation of others, especially those in inferior negotiating positions. That's naive.

I agree with many, in fact most, of your criticisms of unions ... that's why I am not a member of one. And the unions can, and should, compromise on wages and benefits. But not the basic right of collective bargaining. Additionally, you are ignoring the nature of Wisconsin's budget problems which were not exasperated by public largesse. Their unions have not seen any significant increases in the past five years that have suddenly broken the bank. It is all a revenue problem - and much of the lost revenue is a result of new tax cuts and tax subsidies. Walker cut revenue and immediately turned around and cried foul on the unions for wages and benefits. That action alone is simply outrageous, and, all the more, justifies the response by the public workers.

Darren said...

I will not have comments that identify my teachers union.

The comment stated that my local union had "saved my bacon" more than once. I was a union member then :)

Still, I'd rather have the option of going it alone. I'm not, though, and still have to fork over almost $700/year in dues even though I'm not a union member. And to think that a math teacher couldn't get a better pay deal than an English teacher, or a high school teacher couldn't get a better deal than an elementary teacher--well, those are flights of fancy. And I don't think you'll find any posts on here wherein I've slammed my local union, rather you'll find hundreds about state and national unions.

Mazenko, I don't think unions have outlived their usefulness--but they have grown too big for their breeches. A little correction now and then keeps things balanced, and the union situation is definitely in need of some balance.

Darren said...

Why are none of you pro-Wisconsin-teacher types addressing the integrity issues on display in this case?

Anonymous said...

Parochial school teachers have worked for years for less money and lower benefits yet they don't seem to have a need for collective bargaining. At some point, it seems that PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY needs to come into the equation. I don't see that the state has an obligation to secure a retirement for a teacher. They offer a benefit and the individual decides if it is adequate and if deciding that it is not finds ways to adjust. I am so tired of teachers who think my tax dollars should fund their retirement while I am forced to worry about mine. I make about 65% of what I could make in the public school, but I accept that fact and should I ever decide that those terms are unacceptable I will seek other employment. I don't believe I have the right to demand that things change just because I don't like them. I didn't naively sign a contract. BTW, our contracts are for only one year at a time. There isn't any tenure, and we have teachers into the 30+ years of teaching. Job security is by performance. And the students benefit the most...

Ellen K said...

It's getting ready to heat up natioanlly just like healthcare did last year. People are simply fed up. I know that Dallas ISD is talking about layoff of over 50% of the staffs of some schools. Such talk is scary. But at the same time, there are a great many teachers who teach one real class a day and then supervise students in other classes. I just don' think we can afford the luxury. For right now, I think my job is safe, but maybe not next year, and certainly not the following year. At 55, it is pretty daunting to think of changing careers again. Anyway, my rant is on my page. I think it is going to get worse before it gets better.

SentWest said...

Darren don't be silly! Don't you know that the means always justify the ends if your cause is correct?

Treehopper said...

The NEA Representative Assembly will be held in Chicago this year. Freedom loving conservative teachers need to take to the mic and speak out against the nonsense Wisconsin teachers are showing the country.

If you're a teacher, run to be a delegate for your local union at the NEA RA.

I'm going to personally advance a pro-choice message. That is, pro choice of whether to be in a union or not. It's my body!