September 4, 2006

Extra, Extra: Teachers' Unions All About Adult Entitlements, Not Children

Do you remember how the teachers' unions whined when the latest Education Partnership report came out?

As they did with last year's report, union officials called the study "an attack on teacher unions" and "an attempt to gut collective bargaining in Rhode Island."

Union officials also questioned why The Education Partnership did not include them while compiling the reports.

"If we did not have teacher contracts in place, both teachers and students would be significantly worse off in Rhode Island," said Robert A. Walsh Jr., executive director of the state chapter of the National Education Association. "We would not have the quality of teachers we have and things like class size, the structure of the school day and professional development would not be protected."

Putting more authority in the state or school administrators, Walsh said, would cause problems, not solve them. "There is no one-size-fits-all solution," Walsh said. "The issues facing Providence are different than those facing Westerly, and to say there is one answer is crazy."

If a statewide health plan cost a community more than the current plan, who would pay the difference? he asked. If principals chose their teachers, doesn't that open the door to favoritism? Job fairs and job placement based on seniority are more fair and objective than other methods, Walsh said.

And what were the major themes of that report that caused such a vociferous reaction?

"Unions have got to get back in balance so they aren't focused solely on membership and benefits, and instead are focusing on the kids," said Valerie Forti, executive director of The Education Partnership. "It's not like we have the answers to all these things, but we know what we have now is not working."

Despite the fact that Rhode Island teachers are among the highest paid in the nation, student performance continues to lag, particularly in urban districts, which have high concentrations of low-income residents, recent immigrants and English language learners. Taxpayers and parents are fed up, and are asking where the money is going, Forti said.

"Rhode Island has shown it is willing to pay top dollar for our schools, because we know good education is expensive. We are not advocating to reduce teacher salaries or remove health care [benefits] and we understand teachers need retirement benefits," Forti said. "But it is not beneficial to bankrupt communities to provide excessive adult benefits."

In addition, the unions earlier resistance to pension reform is also well known, even though we have the 4th-least funded pension program among the 50 states.

So did you see this week's news that Teachers' endorsement list snubs House leaders?

The Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals has gone public with its first round of endorsements in General Assembly races. So have lots of groups.

What's striking about the union's list: no one on or aligned with House Speaker William J. Murphy 's leadership team is on it.

Federation president Marcia Reback said the endorsements reflect votes on the so-called "pension reforms" of last year that raised the age and work requirements for unvested and newly hired state employees to qualify for a pension and this year's votes for a state budget that provides $1 million in tax credits for corporations that donate to private and parochial schools.

Democrats who sided with the teachers union by opposing both moves -- and by backing reduced pension contributions for affected employees -- got the endorsements which, over time, will come with campaign contributions and plugs for their candidacy in mailings to people who live in their districts, Reback said last week. The union has more than 12,000 active and retired members.

Conspicuously absent from the list: Murphy, D-West Warwick, and his top lieutenant, House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox , D-Providence. Murphy's earlier challenger for the top House leadership post, Rep. John DeSimone , D-Providence, topped the list.

Why? "Because they don't have a good record," Reback said of Murphy and Fox, while DeSimone -- who, as a lawyer at one point represented the teachers in Providence -- has "a 100 percent" voting record on RIFT issues.

Said Murphy: "The leadership team was proud to make some very difficult decisions. Most workers in Rhode Island's private sector have seen their pension systems significantly revised over the past several years. In order to protect the integrity of the state's pension system, we felt that reforms were necessary."

Lo and behold, the Education Partnership was right: The union is acting petulantly because some of their unaffordable adult entitlements were reduced and a few kids in need will now be able to have some basic school choice via a corporate-sponsored scholarship.

The battle lines don't get any more clear than that!

This is a potentially profound development in Rhode Island. The traditional political monolith has shown its first sign of cracking.

Kudos to the Speaker and his team for doing the right thing. Kudos as well to Treasurer Tavares and Governor Carcieri for their leadership on the important pension reform issue.

Speaker Murphy and his team know the pension and healthcare benefit financial liabilities are only going to get more visible as new reporting requirements kick in at the state and local levels. The upcoming transparency is ensuring they begin to face the impending disaster because the reporting will only put more pressure on all politicians.

Speaker Murphy and his team are intelligent people and they are also acting in their own self-interest. They know that it is their voters - especially working people and retirees - who are going to be asked to pay for a large part of the unfunded liability, something they cannot afford. And, they know we cannot continue to over-pay for under-performance in our public schools - and now a small number of kids will benefit by being free of the failed status quo.

In the future, remember this day well: When the chips were down, the teachers' unions focused on their adult entitlements, not what was right for the working people and children of Rhode Island. But you aren't surprised, are you?

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

This is a complex and thorny problem.

The only way to fix it is free trade and a real voucher system that puts the power to chose in the hands of those who are responsible and pay for most of it anyway, the parents and grandparents of the students. This is the inevitable future. Why not suck it up and make the change now?

Why does open competition scare the daylights out of the Union bosses anyway? What are they afraid of? Maybe the real question is what are they hiding behind. They would be the first to agree that the best thing for the children is a great education.

We all know that the real issue at the highest levels is power and control not the children.

What we need is a parents revolution at the ballot box.

J Mahn

Posted by: Joe Mahn at September 4, 2006 3:19 PM

" Job fairs and job placement based on seniority are more fair and objective than other methods, Walsh said."

Unfortunately, 'more fair' does not get the best teachers in front of our children. It just gets the most senior. So the burnt-out, 20-years on the job, doesn't care anymore, 'just sticking around so my pension will be bigger when I retire' teachers are the most likely to advance while the go-getters willing to find new and innovative ways to successfully teach our children fall by the wayside.

Exceptional system you've got there, Bob. No wonder the rest of the free world has rejected it in favor of merit-based systems. Oh wait, except in socialist and communist states. And they're all growing by leaps and bounds, now aren't they?

Posted by: Greg at September 4, 2006 4:27 PM

Here is a great link that sums up the horrific legacy of teachers unions:

Teacher's unions are the single biggest threat to the future of America's children. It is high time that they were dealt with accordingly.

Posted by: Jim at September 4, 2006 8:17 PM

Dear Donald,

Holy Non-Sequitur Batman.

The teachers unions side with the dissidents because the dissidents, at the request of Harwood, we're trying to mess with the budget process.

You in turn try to spin this into a "crack in the monolith." Wow, if you had candidates, that might have meant something.

Let me explain something about being in the majority:

Not everybody can be happy all the time. However, if the choice is between Honest Democrats, when it matters, and dishonest dissidents, who's only real plan is to stab Governor Carcieri in the back some day, we'll all be one big happy family again.

(Speaking of stabbing in the back, what's up with some GOP House candidates singing the Voter Initiative Song, like Maguire, while telling people privately "they're not really on the team"??)

One of the resons the teachers felt comfortable in taking this step was the lack of GOP candidates and competition. It's a message with no real impact. None of the people on the "no endorsement list" are really all that vulnerable. Then again, no Democrat, dissident or otherwise, is really vulnerable outside of a Primary this year. Thanks Don, for promising some folks no opposition, and Pat, just for being you.

In a warped way, by being clueless regarding how to win elections, the GOP perserved the status quo. Only folks out of power would find this even interesting. (Planned Parenthood has stepped from the Senate Leadership on numerous occaisions and nobody ever says anything.)

Lastly, the union hating and demagougery on this isssue is proving once again that the RIGOP isn't ready for prime time. (Thanks again to Don Carcieri, unless Steve Laffey really is a miracle worker, it may not even exist soon.) Even President George W. Bush appeared with a union today.

Again, let me say it for the 111178th time, instead of wasting time union hating, as Don Carcieri has taught you how to do, go find some candidates who can win races. Then perhaps you will get the opportunity to move ideas forward (I know some of you are true believers and really want to) instead playing the role of spectator to our little soap opera.

P.S. In case you're wondering, I find this particular step by the teachers dissapointing, but I understand.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at September 4, 2006 8:49 PM

As if we needed a new and better reason to vote against Linc Chafee...

"National GOP investing heavily in Chafee's reelection bid"

A distinction: Chafee has been the recipient of more labor money -- a total of $87,400 -- than any other Republican in the U.S. Senate, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

A recent NRSC fundraising appeal said: "Big Labor is pouring tens of millions of dollars into key states and other liberal special interests are doing the same to help elect Democrats." But Republican Chafee's contributors include the political arms of the Laborers International Union of North America, which gave him $10,000; the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which each gave $5,000. The list goes on and it includes the bricklayers, ironworkers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, United Food & Commercial Workers Union and more.

Armand Sabitoni, the Rhode Islander who is general secretary-treasurer and New England regional manager of the laborers union, said his union's "general policy is to support incumbents who have demonstrated support for our legislative issues," and Chafee qualifies. Sabitoni credited him with an instrumental role in passing a $285-billion highway bill helping to finance the relocation of Route 195. "He has been supportive on other issues [overtime pay, immigration, minimum wage] but infrastructure is our bread and butter," he said.

Some unions -- such as the AFT -- gave money to Chafee and to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse. "Whenever I have asked Senator Chafee for a hard vote, he has come through," but "we respect both candidates," said Marcia Reback, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers. Asked how hard it would be to choose sides in a Chafee-Whitehouse race, Reback said it would be "an extremely difficult choice when what you have is the possibility the Democrats are going to take five seats in the Senate and Rhode Island would be the sixth seat . . . with the mess we have in the federal government right now, we really need a Democratic majority in the Senate and the House to bring back some sanity."

"Our best-case scenario is that Laffey wins the primary, then we don't have a dilemna. We don't have a hard choice to make," she said candidly. (Chafee versus Whitehouse: "Yes, that would be a difficult decision," echoed J. Michael Downey, president of AFSCME Council 94.)

~~~I refuse to vote for any candidate that big labor wants to keep around, Republican or otherwise.

Posted by: Greg at September 4, 2006 9:06 PM

Bobby, my friend:

Several core elements of your argument don't hold up to even rudimentary scrutiny.

You write as if Anchor Rising is somehow affiliated with the RIGOP or GOP. Not even close. Those of us who blog here made a conscious decision a while back that we would make no formal affiliations with any political party, candidate or issue. We have been asked to do so - and said no every time.

That approach has given us the freedom to speak out in ways that others cannot or will not. I believe it is part of the reason why we are increasingly getting kudos from the political and policy worlds in RI for being a thoughtful blog that creates opportunities for dialogues.

(I did chuckle when you implied we were somehow tight with the GOP. Not when you write this and this.)

We are also not politicians. There is no posturing in what we write so we can use those words in a run for office at a later time.

We are conservatives and quite willingly accept that label, although you will find different flavors of conservatism among each of us and there are no speech constraints imposed on what any of us write.

It probably would also be fair to label us policy wonks (or, at least, aspiring wonks!). One of the implications of being policy-centric is that we really don't care who is on what side of which issue. We are interested in debating the merits and underlying assumptions of the policy under consideration. Since that happens so infrequently these days in the world of politics, it is an area where we try to make some small bit of difference.

I also reject your label of union-hating. We all understand they are acting in their rational self-interest. That said, my core argument is that there is no alignment between their self-interest and what is right for our children. If pointing that out makes me a union basher, then I willingly accept the label. But I also strenuously reject your suggestion that the practices of public-sector unions should be off limits for public debate. They certainly have no lack of willingness to be bullies in their contract demands and having their demands be made publicly transparent for really the first time now is a necessary first step toward eventual change.

The heart of the matter is that public education is a disaster and the unions’ never-ending efforts to block any meaningful change that would benefit our children while demanding more and more money for themselves proves that they will never be part of any viable solution that does right by our children. If we care about the quality of education received by our children, we have to tear down the existing system whose incentives (such as seniority over merit) ensure only ongoing failure.

I would suggest the public debate should be centered around these strategic issues, with these supporting materials.

Posted by: Donald B. Hawthorne at September 4, 2006 11:13 PM

The conservative love for Murphy doesn't surprise me. He's a bigger social conservative than most Republicans in the General Assembly.
This proves those who always moan about how unions control the GA are full of it.
Murph's a casino whore, too.

Posted by: Rhody at September 5, 2006 12:03 AM

All public employees must be put into 401K plans, benefits must be curbed, retirement at 40 ended and phoney disability claims stopped or this state is headed to default in about 10 years. The sad part is even those running as reformers (Laffey, Carcieri, King, etc.) don't articulate the specifics of this simple truth-which the voters are quite ready to hear. Oh well, I guess we have Good-Time Charlie-the "anti-corruption candidate"-LOL

Posted by: Mike at September 5, 2006 10:08 AM

Here is the real RI FUTURE if the Reback's and Walsh's have their way.

Posted by: Mike at September 5, 2006 10:11 AM

The Union is afraid of accountability.If you take away the job fair it would be too easy to actually get fresh people that are more inclined to produce better results. The current system promotes mediocrity.It also keeps the rank and file dependent on the leadership and helps close the circle.

Posted by: Steve at September 5, 2006 10:40 AM

Dear Steve,

What would you replace the job fair with?

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at September 5, 2006 12:04 PM

I don't know Bobby, maybe getting a job based on the ability to teach, having an interst in the education of a child not in the self interest of 180 more days and it is summer again -3 more years and I'll be able to retire.
If we could get teachers who actually care, maybe we could again resume teaching our children how to think rather than how to take a test.
If I want to hire someone for my business I am going to advertise and seek the most qualified person that has a willingness to learn, work hard, and look out for the best interest of my company as well as for themselves. I am not going to go to ask who has been hanging around the longest, that no longer really has the hunger to make an impact in their chosen profession, but just wants to bide their time until the pension checks start rolling in.

Posted by: David Davis at September 5, 2006 12:45 PM

Wow, you can instantly tell life-long union hacks from 'real people' just by how incapable they are of conceiving of merit-based business strategies.

Bobby, our schools are a mess. And they aren't a mess because we aren't spending enough money. Rhode Island teachers are some of the highest paid in the country. In your world, that SHOULD mean that we have some of the smartest kids in the country and very low drop-out rates.

Instead we have the disaster that we are faced with and people like you saying 'yeah, but we can't change it because merit-based anything is unfair to those who are too incompetent to succeed in that environment' and people like us YELLING 'yeah, that's EXACTLY what we want. We want those people OUT!'

Posted by: Greg at September 5, 2006 1:15 PM

Dear David,

I understand your criteria. I just have no idea how to measure them fairly.


For the past 21 years, I've made my living 90% of the time as a commission salesperson. I am judged by what I produce and because I am always in 1099 status, I don't get benefits.

Teacher pay is linked to cost of living and previous negotiations. Therefore, any comment about salaries doesn't tell us a whole heck of a lot.

I don't want anyone incompetent in the system either. However, you have not shown a clear and fair method on how to detect them.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at September 5, 2006 2:07 PM


Nobody has to be taught to hate unions. It comes very naturally to people when the mediocrity of union workmanship is only surpassed by the pompous arrogance of those who produce that mediocrity.
Unions improve NOTHING they touch. NOTHING!
Sucks to be you Bobby, i.e. mediocre and proud of it because you don't know any better. I actually feel sorry for you.

Posted by: Tim at September 5, 2006 6:42 PM

>>I don't want anyone incompetent in the system either. However, you have not shown a clear and fair method on how to detect them.

Here it is:

Teachers know among themselves "who's naughty and who's nice."

Just tie compensation to "collective" performance while eliminating tenure / seniority ... and give teachers the power to vote among themselves who comes back the following year (secret ballot election, even though unions hate 'em).

When their own compensation is dragged down by retaining incompetents and slackers, you'll be amazed at how quickly their peers will want them out the door.

Conversely, if they remain loyal to each other in the name of union solidarity, then they'll bear a "collective" financial cost, not just the taxpayers.

Posted by: Tom W at September 5, 2006 6:46 PM

Gee, what a surprise. Bobby is silent after Tom W offers a concrete plan. And if Bobby Forest Gump Oliveira doesn't like Tom's plan, you can always use others: say, school value added, as calculated by RIDOE (actual test scores less those predicted on the basis of demographic inputs), rounded out with 360 degree feedback (a proven private sector concept Bobby the Democratic Leadership Council member must surely be familiar with). Say, speaking of Bobby's membership in the DLC, isn't that organization supporting performance based pay for teachers these days? Or would that be Bob Rubin's Hamilton Project?

Posted by: John at September 5, 2006 9:32 PM

I'm a bit surprised at you. After all, we are in Rhode Island. Do you think none of us know any teachers. We do, Bobby, and that is where I get such disdain for the teachers unions. I know many people who are teachers and darned good caring ones. Do you want to know how I know that unions suck so bad? - these teachers tell me. The problem is they are run like the Gestapo; everyone stays in line if they know whats good for them. Bobby, the single biggest obstruction to properly educating our children is TEACHERS UNIONS! They should be abolished. That doesn't mean the result will be flawless - it is just guaranteed to be a whole lot better.

Posted by: Jim at September 6, 2006 6:24 AM

Don't know about you but I find the 20something teachers I know to be in the profession not for the mission but for the bene's. The teaching profession, once a noble task, is now simply a job for many of the younger ranks.

Posted by: Tim at September 6, 2006 8:11 AM

Actually, given the clear superiority of an RI teacher's economic package (work year, salary, health care cost, pension, guaranteed promotion based on seniority, isolation from firing, etc.), the decision of so many people to pursue these positions (regardless of whether they have a passion for teaching) strikes me as very rational. Just look at how long people are willing to substitute to get a permanent RI public school teaching job, and how many political strings they try to pull.

Posted by: john at September 6, 2006 9:14 AM

Dear Tom W,

You have not addressed the problem at all:

You still have not indicated how you plan to measure performance. In your system, teachers in homogenious neighborhoods, read white upper class, are going to stay regardless of their quality.

In the poorer minority neighborhoods, you would encourage the salesman's effect: teachers would choose not to teach there just like salesmen don't stay at failing dealerships/resorts/stores et cetera.


I and many of my brethren are struggling with the performance issue. We too would like to know how is eactly doing what with what. However, every time one of us thinks we're close, we realize there are another 5 factors we must account for. Good teachers should get the credit they deserve, bad teachers should have a chance to be retrained.


Workers have the right to organize. No more needs to be discussed on that issue.


If that's true, why are there shortages in the system? (For the record, having been a party to it, string pulling is much more prevelent in Massachusetts.)


I don't think you could afford my rent or any of the houses I'm looking at. I got here through hard work, salesman to director in 6 years, and I will stay here the same way. Don't you have little happy meal boxes that need to be constructed or something?

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at September 6, 2006 2:17 PM

>>You have not addressed the problem at all:

You still have not indicated how you plan to measure performance. In your system, teachers in homogenious neighborhoods, read white upper class, are going to stay regardless of their quality. In the poorer minority neighborhoods, you would encourage the salesman's effect: teachers would choose not to teach there just like salesmen don't stay at failing dealerships/resorts/stores et cetera.

By tying compensation to a world-class benchmark, performance will per se be measured.

As for the "poorer minority neighborhoods" I don't say that as an insurmountable issue. Compensation could be measured against the benchmark, but bonuses or other incentives could be offered for improvement from year to year.

>>Workers have the right to organize. No more needs to be discussed on that issue.

True. For now. Teachers have had statutory permission to "organize" in RI since 1966 - that permission could be withdrawn, if we had a General Assembly that truly cared about the best interests of children. Perhaps someday we will.

In the meantime, teachers should stop referring to themselves as "professionals" since they are (and apparently prefer to be) organized "workers" who, unlike professionals, are not accountable for their own performance and are compensated based on seniority rather than skill and performance.

Posted by: Tom W at September 6, 2006 8:04 PM

Dear Tom W,

So Fire fighters, Police Officers, our military and nurses are all workers??

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at September 6, 2006 9:45 PM

That is the most pathetic answer (or non answer) I've ever heard. I mean, that's it?? That's all you could come up with? I say we take away the rights of public employess to organize. I say that because public employees are not there for themselves. They are there for the public good. If they don't want to see it that way, then get another job! Unions promote nothing but laziness and mediocrity, at best. There will be no advances in public education as long as unions exist within the system. Teachers unions are great for lazy bums and they hurt the very people who don't need them, good hard workers and children. It is a warped system that needs to be changed.

Posted by: Jim at September 6, 2006 10:08 PM

>So Fire fighters, Police Officers, our military and nurses are all workers??

The military isn't unionized (THANK GOD!) - and its members are accountable for their performance. They represent the very best of us, in all senses of the word "best!"

Police, fire and nurses all face life and death situations - in the case of police and fire, their own lives. Therefore they must comport themselves in a "professional" manner, lest they (or someone else) die. Even a union can't alter that dynamic.

Posted by: Tom W at September 6, 2006 11:26 PM

Dear Jim,

I was only addressing one point. The right to organize is an American Instituion. Why am I not surprised that once again a member of the fringe right wishes to decrease liberty?

Public service is honorable. People like you do not have the right to deman it as anything less.

Lastly, you union haters cannot get your facts correct. The USDOT, the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Labor will tell you the following:

1. Construction sites that employ union personnel are safer. (many construction workers, especially those in the steel business, risk their lives every day)

2. Projects completed by union personnel also have a better record of safety.

3. Davis-Bacon is good for the economy.

4. Union members show higher proficiency in their work and tend to be more satisfied as workers than their non-union counterparts.

These are facts. They are indisputable since the same studies tell the same things year after year after year.

Save the union hating for somebody who cares. Perhaps, you think spewing lies like this is a good way to attract women. In any event, it adds nothing to the debate.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at September 7, 2006 10:42 AM


I own a house that you only look at.
No one in this crowd is moved by your grandiose claims but I am enjoying the union talking points you post here as you claim no personal ownership of the union label. Weird!
Bobby being the great union historian that you are could you please explain the often complex and baffling relationship between the unionized worker and the pothole?
Thanking you in advance.

Posted by: Tim at September 7, 2006 7:33 PM

Dear Tim,

There are a lot of places I could own houses in. However, I choose not to.

You made claims about my ability to earn, my ability to think, even my ability to exist outside the womb. When those claims are refuted, you resort to namecalling.

How is this moving the debate forward?

Lastly, since you hate unions so much, why don't explain the relationship between Ronald Reagan and the Teamsters?

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at September 7, 2006 8:45 PM