Monday, January 26, 2015

Teachers Unions And Their Democratic...Allies?

Being an American who believes in the freedom of association, I support the right of my fellow countrymen to join labor unions if they choose to.  I am against the compulsory unionism that is the law in a couple dozen so-called fair-share states.

Additionally, I believe that unions should act in the interests of, and be accountable to, their members.  It drives me to distraction when teachers unions hide behind children and claim to be acting in the interests of children when, in fact, the only people they should support is their members.  The children have plenty of people looking out for them:  the state department of education, the elected school board, and of course their own parents.  Teachers unions should be looking out for children, they should be looking out for teachers.  When the interests of those two groups conflict, the union should either support the teachers or, if the optics of supporting the teachers would be too bad, demur.  Al Shanker was right when he made his famous comment about students' not paying union dues.

I also believe that unions become more useless the further they get away from the worker; for example, local teachers unions may look out for specific teachers but the state and national unions are useless to the individual teacher, and are in fact nothing more than arms of the Democratic Party.  I want nothing to do with them.

Which is why this article in Reason Magazine is so interesting:
Cuomo referred to the teacher unions and the entrenched education establishment as an “industry” that is more interested in protecting the rights of its members than improving the system for the kids it is supposed to be serving.

“Somewhere along the way, I believe we flipped the purpose of this,” Cuomo said. “This was never a teacher employment program and this was never an industry to hire superintendents and teachers.
“This was a program to educate kids.” ...

He said he openly disagreed with a teacher union member who said he represents the students.

“No, you don’t,” Cuomo said he told the person. “You represent the teachers. Teacher salaries, teacher pensions, teacher tenure, teacher vacation rights. I respect that. But don’t say you represent the students.”
The fact that this fiery anti-union tirade passed the lips of a blue state Democrat tells you everything you need to know about just how thoroughly teaches union have alienated many of their natural political allies. And this isn't merely some quirk of New York politics, as the same thing has happened on a local scale in numerous cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles. Democratic politicians everywhere are more willing to take on teachers unions than ever before.

I suspect that's because they recognize the long-term unsustainability of this alliance. Teachers unions have continued to extort delusional concessions from lawmakers and taxpayers, even as their leaders' antics grow more distracting and hateful.
Cuomo's wrong in believing that teachers unions should be serving kids, but right when he points out that they don't (except when it's good for the Democratic Party).   It's not beyond teachers unions at all to hide behind children, for example when demanding more money for education, as if there's no conflict of interest in doing so.

I'm not as sanguine as the Reason author in seeing Cuomo's verbal jab as some bellwether of things to come, but it's certainly a good start.


maxutils said...

I think that's a bit overly simplistic. The basic premise is true: unions represent their workers first, as they should. However -- if unions forget that they also serve their customers (in this case, students) then they become unnecessary, as they are either requiring too much pay for the job, or not performing well enough to warrant what they have, or both.

Darren said...

I categorically disagree that unions serve the students. Students don't pay dues, unions should represent those who pay them.

maxutils said...

That's very much like what I said. Except for your leaving out the part about it being in the teacher's best interests (at least long run) to be doing good things for the students. Hence, oversimplification. Without successful students, unions erode their bargaining power. Imagine if 1 in every 25 flights across the country ended in a crash, killing hundreds of people? Would the pilots be able to bargain for raises? Same deal with teachers … the better the students do, the better their bargaining position.