What Comes with Public Sector Collective Bargaining

by Brian McGraw on March 3, 2011 · 1 comment

in Labor, Regulation

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The left has been successful in framing Governor Walker’s efforts to end collective bargaining rights in the public sector as an assault on children, invoking sympathy from the rationally ignorant public. Stewart and Colbert have taken the lefts side.

It is both morally wrong and counterproductive (in my opinion!) to attack the teachers who work in the public school system. But let us not forget what the public-sector education unions have brought us over the years. These institutions (which in many areas may arguably help teachers be more effective) are far from innocent:

They have made it very difficult and expensive to fire ineffective teachers all over the country. Reason (PDF) has covered the insane process administrators must go through to fire teachers in NYC, as has the Chicago Tribune and a D.C. paper (PDF). Don’t forget the well covered “rubber rooms debacle” in New York City, where teachers sit around twiddling their thumbs while the city goes through a long, difficult and expensive process attempting to fire them for ineffectiveness. Los Angeles has had the same experience.

They have constantly battled charter school initiatives across the country (here, here, here, here, here, here, etc.). Charter schools haven’t turned out to be the immediate panacea that many had hoped, but experimentation with charter schools is preferable to the status quo. The public school system has certainly been allowed to gobble up experiment with more and more of our money for years on end without making significant improvements.

The unions, according to The Washington Post, helped kill funding for a small voucher program in D.C. that got impoverished children out of the public school system and into a private school, which was very successful and popular. They have ensured that contracts do not allow administrators to keep successful teachers rather than those who have been there the longest when layoffs need to be made.

They threw a big tantrum in Los Angeles when the LA Times released data that would allow parents to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers. They have blocked similar attempts in New York City to release the same type of data. The data were very personal in that they included the teacher’s name, and the improvements or lack of improvements they have made in their students’ standardized test results. This is by no means a perfect measure of a teacher’s overall effectiveness, but it is certainly part of the equation and something that parents should be allowed to consider.

And don’t forget Michelle Rhee, who managed to actually fire a number of teachers deemed ineffective in the District of Columbia (which for some reason caused her to be hated by many throughout the U.S.). Many of them will be offered their jobs back with back pay, amounting to potentially $7.5 million.

If you are being paid to teach children and are unable to do it effectively, you need to find another occupation, and cities shouldn’t have to spend 3 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars making this happen. The unions have not allowed for this, and have fought tooth and nail against it, and through this process have undoubtedly kept ineffective teachers in the classroom at the expense of children enrolled in these schools. You can wrap this in gold plated foil, but underneath, this is completely inexcusable and bordering on sinister.

Could public sector bargaining be reformed such that they still had some “rights” but could be fired quickly and easily if necessary? Probably. But why have these unions gotten us in the mess in the first place? And what guarantees are there that in the future, when this isn’t such a hot-button issue, unions aren’t going to help elect sympathetic politicians willing to give back the same protections they have now? And why is the left defending this collective bargaining without even acknowledging the problems they have caused?

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