Education Opinion

Teachers’ Unions on the Ropes

By Walt Gardner — February 26, 2014 1 min read
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What happened in Wisconsin, the first state to allow public-sector workers to negotiate contracts in 1959, bodes ill for other states as well. The cause of my concern is Act 10, which drastically restricts the power of public-employee unions to bargain collectively (“Wisconsin’s Legacy for Unions,” The New York Times, Feb. 23). However, I’ll confine my remarks to teachers’ unions.

Unless Act 10 is overturned by the courts, teachers’ unions can negotiate only base pay, which at best cannot exceed inflation. Gone is the right to bargain over pensions, health coverage, sick days etc. In short, teachers’ unions have been effectively emasculated. School district administrators cite the savings that have resulted, their ability to fire ineffective teachers, and their freedom to institute pay-for-performance policies. If these changes were not Draconian enough, many counties have eliminated language requiring “just cause” when firing teachers. It makes no difference if teachers speak out about legitimate safety concerns or other matters relating to student welfare.

Teacher morale has been predictably destroyed. Yet of some 400 school district unions that sought recertification under Act 10, about 80 failed to get the needed majority. I attribute the disappointing results to the belief by teachers that their unions can no longer do anything substantive for the dues they must pay. (Dues can no longer be automatically deducted from teachers’ paychecks. Instead, unions must get permission from each teacher to do so.)

It’s a bleak situation, and I see it spreading to other states. Teachers see no point in looking to their unions because they have nothing to offer. Little did Albert Shanker know how prophetic he was when he quipped that before teachers’ unions there was collective begging, rather than collective bargaining. The difference now is that collective begging is over the sop thrown to the teachers’ unions.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.