2012-08-31 – Had an interesting conversation with my train buddy yesterday. He takes a dim view of the teachers union and so do I. But our reasons are completely different.
He thinks that public unions are a bad idea because of potential collusion between management (consisting of elected officials) and labor. This is a view that is frequently attributed to Franklin Roosevelt, as if the authority of FDR gives it validity. FDR was a great president, but he wasn’t always right. The fact that he may have thought a thought doesn’t mean that I should think it.
I think that there often is collusion between management and labor, but I don’t think it is unique to the public union situation. It occurs when any management, public or private, finds a way to pay labor without having to bear the expense. The problem with many teachers contracts is that, for generations, the politicians gave the teachers promises of pension benefits and union official accepted the promise. The politicians didn’t have to pay the bill at the time they made the promise. But the promise is coming due now. Now, either the teachers have to take the fall or the public does. The folks who set up this system are either comfortably retired or dead. (See my blog CEOs and Firefighters.)
There are two ways to prevent this. Some people think you can prevent this by prohibiting collective bargaining in the public sector. I think you can prevent this by prohibiting management from creating massive unfunded liabilities. Private corporations got into trouble because of unfunded pension liabilities until federal law banned the practice. Unfortunately governmental employers are not restricted by this law. I think they should be.
My problem with the teachers union is not that they try to negotiate favorable compensation for their members. That the one thing they should do. And it’s a difficult job. My problem with the teachers union is that they pretty much limit their work to that.
To that and whining. They whine that parents and politician are making unfair quality demands of their members. Well, if the teachers union would take the lead in the movement toward quality, they could turn this situation right around.
Of course, this presumes that they even know what quality teaching is. They don’t. They cling to the idea that a few stellar teachers is all they need to prove the worth of the whole profession.
These stars are naturals and they deserve all the praise in the world. But I don’t want a kid to have one stellar teacher in 12 years and 25 duds. The myth of that one inspiration is not the foundation for a school system. Quality has to be routine. And the teachers union should be in the forefront, not holding the schools back.
Other unions promote quality in their crafts. But the public doesn’t even know about that because the teachers union is such a noisy dysfunction.