Posts Tagged ‘private sector workers’

What do unions say?

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Are unions bringing the U.S. down? Does unionization mean that jobs will never increase? Whose jobs-private sector, public sector?

Teachers unions, for example, are blamed for everything related to school problems.  They hold onto pay scale systems that are old-fashioned; berate the weaknesses of state tests; defend weak teachers; stand against changes to teacher evaluation; and, especially, defend teacher retirement systems.

Wait a minute. Teachers have formed professional organizations since the mid-eighteen hundreds. In 1959 when Wisconsin passed labor laws that allowed collective bargaining, teachers unions adopted labor union strategies. Negotiations for decent pay, hours, work place safety, as well as curriculum and evaluation became the norm.

With the current budget struggles, it is easy to lump all labor unions into one bundle and scapegoat those institutions for all the money problems of each state. It is true that to keep middle class wages, benefits, and pensions, the unions can use their negotiation muscle, but who would not want to keep what you’ve worked for?

Are you thinking of the Wall Street-hedge fund-private equity manager guys who’ve certainly used muscle to keep tax revenue low and bonuses high? Do the state governors and assemblies come to mind, who budgeted for pensions in good times but are now stingy in bad money times?

Right now, private sector workers are being pitted against public sector workers in unions, in an effort to justify taking away money to balance state budgets. The lawmakers who want to resolve the fiscal crisis on workers backs say that public employees earn far more in average wages than private sector employees. Think, however, about college degrees that teachers must have; only 23% of private-sector workers have those degrees. In most professions, a college degree is worth a higher salary. Overall in fact, public sector wages have dropped relative to private sector pay.  However, since jobs have been lost mainly in the private-sector, due to the recession, it is easy to establish a stand-off.

Teachers unions do need to turn to themselves. National Education Association(NEA) stances on dropout prevention, plans to lower the achievement gap, placing limits on charter schools and vouchers do benefit school communities.

Still, unions are not wearing halos. First and foremost, unions must use their muscle to help schools that are truly failing, instead of finding excuses for longtime poor performance. Insist on changes to student assessments that do not lead to school quality, a big factor for improvement. Next, teacher evaluation must be taken on. Once teachers feel they are being evaluated fairly, then unions can focus on changes in pay-no longer ‘steps and ladders’ and tenure, but a plan to combine performance with pay. Last, teachers unions in some states can be part of a team that bargains for changes to pension systems.

Stop pointing fingers. All workers have the right to bargain for working conditions and decent pay. Setting teachers against social workers against electricians against public defenders against state engineers is not the solution to budget problems.

Stop reproaching unions, claiming that student achievement would improve if only unions were out of the way.

Civility and collaboration generate better outcomes.

(More on the private vs. public sector union issues can be found in the San Francisco Chronicle‘s January 16, 2012, Insight article by Robert Reich. More on teachers unions at the NEA website.)