The Impact of Collective Bargaining on Teacher’s Rights and Children’s Rights– What is Fair?



Lawrence Textile Strike, 1912

There is no denying the crucial role of unions in labor history, particularly in the United States.  Unions helped workers overcome deplorable and unfair conditions early in the 20th century, improving nationwide treatment of the workforce. The Catholic Church, always the champion of the downtrodden, has also made numerous statements in support of unions and of the rights of workers.  This includes a recent statement by Archbishop Listecki of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, in February 2011.

Historically, when industrialization placed too much power in the hands of employers, unions restored some of that power to workers, preventing worker abuse.  We can thank unions for improving the health of the employee-worker relationship, and for numerous workplace benefits which restore justice and improve family life, including the now permanent concept of “weekend.”


Healthy Relationships

Is the employer-worker relationship healthy and just in 2011?  In any relationship, a healthy balance of power and of rights is required.  Domination by either party can lead to injustice.  The restoration of power to an individual who was previously powerless can be taken too far, and giving too much power to the previously downtrodden can simply reverse, instead of eliminating, the injustice.  Have we reached that point of reverse injustice between employers and workers in the United Sates today?


Public Teacher’s unions

Recent conflicts between public teachers’ unions and state governments, as well as conflicts between teachers’ unions and school administrators, highlight the need to reevaluate this question of balancing employer-worker rights.  When the “employer” becomes the fiscally crippled state government, or particularly when the employer becomes the children and families of America, it becomes crucial to find a fair balance between teacher’s rights and children’s rights, as well as between teachers’ rights and fiscal reality.

Several current news items are particularly relevant to this discussion.  They include:

  • Recent disclosures about New York City teachers’ unions by the Chancellor of the New York City (NYC) public school system.
  • Recent union-led teachers’ demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin.
  • An Op-Ed article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the state of Wisconsin schools by Tony Pedriana, a retired teacher, principal, union rep, author, and member of Governor Walker’s Read to Lead Task Force.


Disclosures about NYC teachers’ unions by the Chancellor of the NYC public school system

An eye-opening article has just appeared in the June 2011 Atlantic MonthlyThe Failure of American Schools— written by Joel Klein, Chancellor of the New York City (NYC) public school system for 8 years.  Klein’s attempts to reverse the rapid degeneration of the NYC educational system were frustrated by a number of political problems stemming primarily from teachers unions, which DO raise the question of whether union workers may have become too powerful today.


Main Points made by Chancellor Joel Klein:

  • American scholastic achievements have been deteriorating rapidly since the 1980’s. The United States now ranks 48th in math and science, near the bottom of industrialized countries.  Less than 1/3 of US 8th grade students are proficient in math, science or reading.  76% of our high school graduates are not adequately prepared for first-year college courses.   A Nation at Risk 1983, National Commission on Excellence in Education
  • Student progress is affected dramatically by individual teacher performance. Holding all other factors constant, some teachers can advance a class as much as 1.5 years in one year, or by as little as 0.5 years.  The cumulative effects of such teacher quality differences could lead an 8th grader to perform anywhere between 12th grade level and 4th grade level, depending on the teachers they have had.
  • NYC teacher unions do not tolerate the evaluation of teachers, the rewarding of good teachers (merit raises), or the removal of poor teachers.  All salary raises are compulsory, based purely on seniority, and teachers are not dismissed for any reason,  including conviction of sexual child molestation.
  • Teacher unions have negotiated remarkable benefits for their members, FAR exceeding what other Americans can hope for outside of union jobs.  These include average salaries of $71,000 per year for elementary and high school teachers (average salary for much more highly educated college professors is $81,000). ( Incidentally, teachers are drawn from the lowest quarter of graduating undergraduates.)  Benefits also include 185 days of work per year (most other workers work 250 days per year), with mandatory 10% raises every 3 years, retirement at age 55 (others retire at 65), retirement income of $60,000 free of state and local taxes with cost of living increases, and lifetime health benefits for the teacher’s entire family.
  • Among teachers, poor performers, even those convicted of sexual misconduct or other abusive behavior, continue to collect paychecks, raises, benefits and retirement, while sitting in “rubber rooms” or at home, awaiting arbiters who have been selected by the union, to determine their fate.  The unions and their “arbiters” routinely demand the return of these individuals to the classroom.  In NYC, about 2% of all teachers are collecting full salary while not teaching, doing administrative duties or substituting, because no principal wants to hire them.  These teachers are costing NYC $100 million per year.  Firing a public-school teacher for non-performance is virtually impossible.  Out of NYC’s 55,000 tenured teachers, Chancellor Klein was only able to fire about 6 teachers in one year for incompetence; only one in 10,000 teachers.

How do teachers and their unions get away with these appalling statistics?

  • Unions are intimately connected to the political process.  Unions are among the top spenders in politics, contributing heavily, particularly to Democrats, who pass legislation requested by the unions, such as passing tenure, seniority pay, early retirement with pension and health benefits, including cost of living increases, all privileges independent of performance. In return, the unions provide services to the politicians; patronage hires, school-placement opportunities for connected constituents, millions of union members turn out to go door-to-door, staff phone banks, and attend rallies when summoned by the union.  Union contracts include time off for teachers to do union work during the school day. (This explains the plentiful out-of-state attendance by teachers at Madison’s recent labor demonstrations.)
  • When interest rates drop during recession, and teacher pension plan reserves cannot cover the benefits of retired teachers, luxurious teacher benefits are paid from present and future school operating budgets, depriving today’s children of a quality education which the school budget was passed to ensure.  In addition, eager young teachers with less seniority are laid off, to ensure the comfort of senior union members.  Syte’s note: In NYC, now over 4,000 thousands of teachers are being laid off — Similarly, in Wisconsin, the recent teachers’ union demonstrations in Madison achieved the same effect  — the demonstrations by bussed-in from nationwide union members served as effective delay tactics, permitting unions to rush through contracts ensuring their continued privileges and comforts before Governor Walker’s budget law could be passed.  Now that budgetary realities must be addressed, hundreds of teachers are being laid off, primarily those with least seniority, including award-winning junior teachers like Karen Niehausen.
  • Unions oppose implementation of new teaching technologies.  When technology offers new techniques for raising the quality of each child’s education, such as offering Advanced Placement (AP) computer lectures from “super-teachers” (augmented by individual interaction with teachers in the classroom), unions veto the plan, claiming that if a child is not taught by a live teacher, they will not fulfill a requirement called “seat time,” which ensures the need for large numbers of teachers.  “Seat-time” is a union-backed requirement which undermines the ability to implement new teaching technologies.
  • Unions oppose merit rewards and higher pay for junior teachers. Proposals to offer bigger dollars to young teachers and to offer merit raises, in order to raise the quality of teacher available to children were similarly rejected by unions. The unions demand instead equal pay for all teachers in all subjects, regardless of performance.  The only mechanism for increase in pay is seniority, tenure, and staying in the system.

It becomes pretty clear from NYC Chancellor Klein’s Atlantic article, from his points discussed above, that one of the primary obstacles faced by those seeking to improve American education is the resistance encountered by teachers’ unions—which make it their priority to increase the size of their unions, their budgets, their power, and the comfort of their most senior members.  This trend of prioritizing the comfort of adults over the welfare of children and over the welfare of junior teachers is disturbing, and is contrary to democratic and Judeo-Christian values.


Recent union-led teachers’ demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin

The recent demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin in February, 2011 brought many of the same teacher union issues to the forefront in Wisconsin, including the prioritization of senior union members and the politicization of the entire educational system.  Not only were teachers and members of other unions bussed in to Madison, but local teachers interrupted classes to demonstrate, some even bringing their naïve students to demonstrate with them at the Madison Capitol building.

Events in Madison included a number of shockers;

  • abandonment of classrooms by teachers claiming to be sick
  • dishonest doctors handing out fake sick notes
  • violation of Capitol hours and rules by demonstrators refusing to leave the Capitol building
  • violation of parking and other City ordinances
  • abandonment of duties by Democrat Senators who fled to Illinois to sabotage the democratic process
  • property damage at the Capitol building
  • Madison police failing to enforce laws among the crowds,
  • crowds chasing Senators around the Capitol building
  • death threats to Republican Senators

Some of these events are described in my previous articles:
A Word from the Silent Majority on Liberal Tactics
What’s Really Happening in Wisconsin
What’s Really Going On in Wisconsin- continued
Clashes Between Liberals and Conservatives – Washington, United Nations, Madison- Common Denominator?
Sarah Palin’s Message to Madison
Alinksy Tactics
Few of these events were reported by Madison’s liberal media, which idolized the lawbreaking crowds and the lawbreaking Democrat Senators.

Ultimately, the demonstrations served to delay implementation of the budget bill with its public union benefit reductions, and allowed additional teacher’s union contracts to be finalized, protecting the status quo for senior union members at the cost of the younger teachers, who are now being laid off .

The dishonesty continues, as Democrats and liberal judges in Madison continue to use delay tactics on the teachers collective bargaining limitation legislation, and on the seating of Judge Prosser, in attempts to prevent the implementation of the budget legislation, which was passed by the Republican majority which was elected in Wisconsin in November of 2010.


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article on the state of Wisconsin schools by Tony Pedriana

Priority should be kids’ reading, not politics

by Tony Pedriana – retired teacher, principal, union rep, author, and member of Governor Walker’s Read to Lead Task Force.

Tony Pedriana confirms that all the problems discussed above in the NYC public schools also exist in Wisconsin:

  • 2/3 of Wisconsin’s 4th graders cannot demonstrate age-appropriate reading ability.
  • Wisconsin’s student ranking has dropped within the United States—from 3rd in the nation 10 years ago, to 30th in the nation today.
  • The achievement gap between minority and white populations is larger in Wisconsin than in any other state.  80% of minority students read below age level.  Florida and Mississippi have surpassed Wisconsin, and they spend far less than Wisconsin per child.
  • Administrators who factor student achievement in a teacher’s evaluation face grievance hearings.

In the face of these statistics, are Wisconsin’s teachers not embarrassed to clamor for more “rights?”


Educational Bubble

While prosperity was with us, we were delighted to treat our teachers with the privilege and respect that the vast majority of them deserved.  However, now that less bountiful financial times are upon us, and particularly now that educational standards have suffered nationwide from decades without proper teacher evaluation, teachers must make an adjustment along with the rest of the nation.  A captain does not wallow in luxury for long, while his  ship goes down in neglect.

The education bubble has burst, and public teacher unions must recognize this and accept their share of sacrifice.

It is not only unethical, undemocratic, but also remarkably short-sighted, to continue augmenting the privileged positions of senior teachers in the school system as our national educational achievements slip toward those of third world countries.  The time to overhaul the strangle-hold of the public unions on education has come.


What is fair?

We should respect moral authorities at least as much as we respect civil authorities, medical authorities, and academic authorities.  Turning to the Catholic Church, champion of the downtrodden, is always a good idea when groups with conflicting interests want to ask what is fair.

Bishop Morlino gives some good advice on the Madison teacher’s union situation: –

What is fair?

The question to which the dilemma boils down is rather simple on its face: is the sacrifice which union members, including school teachers, are called upon to make, proportionate to the relative sacrifice called for from all in difficult economic times? In other words, is the sacrifice fair in the overall context of our present situation? – Bishop Robert C. Morlino, Diocese of Madison, WI

Bishop Morlino leaves us to determine the answer to this question ourselves.  It seems to me that the answer is clear.  Change is imperative because ensuring children’s rights ensures our future as a nation.