Thursday, September 01, 2011

Public Sector Union Perks

We've all heard advocates justify policy proposals as "for the children." A surprising exception might be organizations in close contact with actual children--teachers unions.

The most recent evidence came in Wisconsin's battle with public sector unions, including teachers. The core issue there was money, said American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten:
In state after state, public employees are facing an unprecedented attack on their collective bargaining rights, salaries and benefits.
This echoed famous remarks by Bob Chanin, the general counsel of the National Education Association (the largest teachers union), who explained the teachers union’s sway at his 2009 farewell address (video starting about 21:30):
Despite what some among us would like to believe it is not because of our creative ideas; it is not because of the merit of our positions; it is not because we care about children; and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child.

The NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power. And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of million of dollars in dues each year because they believe that we are the unions that can most effectively represent them; the union that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees.
But I question the word "willing." Under the old collective bargaining agreement, the government took teacher dues from paychecks and forwarded them to unions. So, in 2009, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, a union affiliated with the NEA, received $25 million in dues. Now, as existing agreements expire, teacher dues are turning voluntary, forcing the WEAC to lay off 40 percent of its staff. Less money means less power.

And that's no bad thing. It gives teachers more of the salary they earned. Plus, and unlike private sector workers, state employees already get the benefit of civil service laws. According to Wisconsin's Office of Employment Relations, state employees retain:
• The right to a harassment/discrimination free workplace.

• The right to due process (prior to being disciplined).

• Grievance/appeal rights.

• Ability to compete for positions (transfer, demote, promote)

• Protection from discrimination in the hiring process because of political or religious opinions or affiliations or because of age, sex, disability, race, color, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry.

• After passing a probationary period, attainment of a permanent status similar to tenure.

• Protection during times of workforce reductions by a clear set of seniority-based rules and procedures for both layoff and recall.
This suggests far less concern for disparity in government employee power.

Finally, public sector unions can undermine non-partisan public service:
Collective bargaining in government politicizes the civil service--because government unions negotiate and decide how much voters and taxpayers will pay for government services. To achieve greater concessions, they campaign for supportive politicians to be their bosses. When they succeed, unions control both sides of the bargaining table: Labor and management will collude to raise government salaries at taxpayer expense.
Conclusion: The fight over teacher union collective bargaining isn't "for the children." It's about money and political power. Nothing wrong with either, but nothing wrong with laws and regulations protecting the public. Progressives often say that--when they're not gluing shut school doors or dis-inviting Republicans to their parades.

(via Labor Union Report)

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