September 8, 2007

A Mere Suggestion for the Teachers' Unions

Justin Katz

When we at Anchor Rising and the Providence Journal's Bob Kerr are (at the least) headed toward the same page, you might want to turn some of your questions inward:

A lot of years later, conditions are obviously better. Teacher pay has gotten downright comfortable. Teachers are often seen showing up at school in some very nice wheels. Benefits are wonderful. And there are the summers.

But there has been a high cost for the relative prosperity. It is the gradual erosion of that special place teachers used to hold in their cities and towns.

It usually shows itself in the late summer when parents start telling stories of how they have had to reorder their lives because children who they expected to be in school are not.

There are scowling, finger-jabbing citizens who point to hard times in their communities while teachers exploit their unique hold on the most important service those communities provide. ...

And, of course, they go on strike sometimes, knowing they are risking absolutely nothing because they will still be required by state law to work the same number of days. And days lost in September are recovered in June. They’re not really putting a whole lot on the line. None have gone to jail in a long time.

Every year, the teacher strike or strikes of the season seem a little more tedious, a little more tacky, a little more out of touch.

What a horrible, corrosive blow this whole unionized system has become to our communities. Kerr does open describing the low pay that his teacher parents accepted as the tradeoff for "personal satisfaction," and I, as one of a certain many, would fight against a return to those days. Instead, I find myself fighting against the teachers, with an unshakable feeling that being known as doing so may affect my children adversely.

It shouldn't be this way. The union organizations' hands have no business in our schools, in our pockets, or around our necks.

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.


Don't kid yourself. This is Rhode Island. Your kids will pay a price for your activism. That's how petty and merciless your opponents really are. Why put your kids (not to mention you and your wife) through that? Why not tell your wife's family they can come to visit you, and move your family to a place that has lower taxes, better schools, a more balanced approach to social welfare, and more economic opportunity? Why not just do the right thing for your family, and leave Rhode Island to slowly sink in its self made cesspool of corruption and cronyism, ad hominem argument and "I know a guy" and "I know your kids" politics?

Why don't you leave, and in so doing speed the arrival of the Ocean State's inevitable train wreck?

Posted by: John at September 9, 2007 12:15 AM

Unfortunately, at the speed that things are headed, the trainwreck is going to come sooner than later. Undeniable fact of life: Sometimes it takes a catastrophe to get people's attention focused on a problem. Who was really focused on bridge safety before the bridge collapse in Minnesota last month? ... and other examples ad infinitum.

As it relates to educating kids, that's exactly why we have one of the highest per capita attendance of students at private and parochial schools in the country ... some people do see the train heading over the cliff. Those schools turn out a better "product" at a much lower cost, because their focus really is "on the children," not just using them like a pimp does a hooker, just to make money at their expense. Unfortunately, not all families that could benefit from private or parochial schooling can afford it. Some kind of voucher system might help.

Public schools in Rhode Island -- with few notable exceptions -- have abandoned the concept that students' education comes first and that the primary mission of a school is to provide a quality education (I'm defining "education" as giving kids the tools they need in order to be able to think critically and to gain skills which they will be able to use during their lifetime -- such as literacy and the ability to add without a calculator -- not expending inordinate effort teaching them how to feel better about themselves, or cultivating a sense of entitlement).

The schools have become little more than factories churning out defective products, and especially over the last several decades, they've become almost entirely "teacher focused" ... it's about what's in it for them. I'll tell you what's in it for them: the much higher than average salaries for only 180 days of work; the automatic raises without corresponding merit; the free to near free gold plated healthcare plans; three months off in the summer; lifetime pensions based on what they're making in the last few years of their working years; plus short of raping or murdering a student, a near guarantee of employment until retirement ... which of course, they can take earlier than most, so that they can get a "second career" while continuing to collect the pension from the first one. Any wonder why the populace so resents them?

PS Believe it or not, I am holding back.

Posted by: Will at September 9, 2007 1:52 AM

Bob Kerr wrote that??

The discussion is over.

Posted by: SusanD at September 9, 2007 7:27 AM

Don't believe that the teachers are not 100% behind their union leadership. By seperating the members from the orginizers you let the membership off the hook too easily when hard decisions are made.

Posted by: michael at September 9, 2007 10:44 AM

Michael, you're absolutely right. Some of us dance around it a little out of tact, because we're hoping the teachers will figure it out for themselves and take charge of their profession (and their reputation and their pensions) without anyone having to get confrontational and accusational.

But they're is no question - no one is being held prisoner. Members of the NEARI and AFT are responsible for the actions of their unions. And for the elevation of mediocre and bad teachers to the same level as good teachers. And for the attendant drop in the quality of education (46th) in Rhode Island.

(... can I help you? Sure, and you are ...? Dresser? ... oh, excuse me.

Michael, the ghost of Jackie Presser would like to speak to you.)

Posted by: SusanD at September 9, 2007 12:08 PM


I ask this without a shred of sarcasm or contentiousness, but rather so that I might come closer to writing in such a way as to be maximally understood:

How did you get the impression, from a post complaining that "I find myself fighting against the teachers" (and worrying, somewhat obliquely, that those teachers might exact a consequence from my children), that I am "separating the members from the organizers"?

Union organizations have no business in our schools, but obviously teachers do. The problem is that the union structure makes the teachers into the organizations' hands.

Posted by: Justin Katz at September 9, 2007 12:35 PM

There's a great book called "The Worm in the Apple: How the Teacher Unions Are Destroying American Education" that (among other things) discusses the internal dynamics of the teachers unions.

There's also another great resource on the web called "The Education Intelligence Agency" that follows the activities of the teachers unions - it has a free weekly email update that one can subscribe to.

As with many (if not most) unions, the NEA is "democratic" in theory, but not in practice. Individual teachers are subordinate to the local, the local to the statewide (NEARI), and the statewide to the national (NEA).

Indeed, NEA has folks called "Uniserve" that in many respects serve the same function as the "political officers" in the Soviet Army - there to make sure that everyone "tows the line" of the national.

Let us not forget that teachers are FORCED to join in RI. Many disagree with the union and its policies and practices - such as the brave teachers years ago who opposed NEARI's use of their forced dues to fight in court the repeal of the granting of state pensions to teacher union leaders who didn't even work for the state.

(BTW, Mssrs. Walsh & Crowley - how about telling us who at NEA / AFT who came up with that bill, and who introduced it in the General Assembly on their behalf? YOU MUST KNOW OR CAN FIND OUT, so how about coming clean on behalf of your organization?)

The NEA culture is one which pushes obedience and silence - starting with the "local" officials who like getting paid for not being in the classroom due to "union business" and typically want to curry favor with the higher ups in the union for "promotion opportunities." Dissent and individual opinion is not welcome, and can be punished through ostracism and peer pressure.

For example, note too how the union forces teachers to, e.g., vote on contracts / strike votes by public display rather than secret ballot. Vote against the union line in front of the union hacks at your own risk.

All that said, the teachers shouldn't be let off the hook. If teachers here (and nationally) rose up, they could do it (it's not like we're talking about the Soviet Union and they'd end up in Siberia).

Additionally, decertification of NEA / AFT is always an option for teachers. They could get together and either decertify NEA / AFT as their representative, and form a local (or statewide) teachers union of their own ... or decertify and go completely union-free.

According to the book, the majority of teachers aren't "into" the union stuff at all - they're members because they're forced to join, but don't get involved more than is required, and don't drink the union Kool-Aid. There are others that oppose it, but are intimidated into silence.

Then there is a minority core of true believers.

Perhaps someday there will be a "tipping point" at which enough teachers decide they've had enough of the union agenda and its antics, and decide to stand up and recapture their professionalism.

Posted by: Tom W at September 9, 2007 1:07 PM


My comment isn't entirely about your post, rather my experience with union members who, when asked to explain and legitimize our excellent benefit packages instead refer to the "union bosses" insted of doing their best to tell our side of things. It is a cop out I see frequently on the outside but seldom in the union hall. If you don't believe in what your union stands for and your worth as part of that union you have no right belonging to it in the first place.

I was using your post as a soapbox to express my views because I've heard a number of teachers blame the union for the strikes recently and I makes me crazy. "WE" (union members)are "THE UNION," like it or leave it.

I thought your words "union orginizations" gave a pass to individual teachers.

Posted by: michael at September 9, 2007 1:08 PM


I ain't no "Rat Bastard!!!(lol)" I just try to tell it like I see it

Posted by: michael at September 9, 2007 1:11 PM

Look what you've gone 'n' done, Michael. Now I have to respond to this:

If you don't believe in what your union stands for and your worth as part of that union you have no right belonging to it in the first place.

So, in other words, what? Teachers who don't believe in what their unions stand for have no right teaching in Rhode Island "in the first place"?

Posted by: Justin Katz at September 9, 2007 2:13 PM

"Only true believers need apply."

Posted by: Greg at September 9, 2007 2:17 PM

Teachers have a choice; private schools. Or they can do something about their leadership if they disagree with the direction they are travelling. They are elected officials.

I have a lot of philosophical differences of opinion with my union but I don't hide behind "the leadership." I don't agree with everything we do but honestly believe that labor unions are a vital part of the give and take that makes our economy vital.

Posted by: michael at September 9, 2007 2:53 PM

The problem becomes when "Give and take" becomes "GIMME GIMME GIMME!" Hence the current fiscal situation.

Posted by: Greg at September 9, 2007 3:39 PM

Okay. So to hone my question in light of your subsequent explanation, Michael: Citizens who wish to teach "have no right" to do so at the schools that their own governments run unless they are willing to join (and fund) unions?

Here's a thought: Since union members are able to vote for the public officials for whom they will be working and with whom they will be negotiating, how about we require that the executives of public unions be elected by the general population, or at least held accountable to the public in some other way?

Posted by: Justin Katz at September 9, 2007 4:12 PM

>> Instead, I find myself fighting against the teachers, with an unshakable feeling that being known as doing so may affect my children adversely.

Justin, doesn't this say something about whether teachers are true professionals or not? To think that a teacher in an elementary school classroom, or any classroom for that matter, would exact retribution on the child of a parent who speaks up for the good of the community is reprehensible, never mind unprofessional. Yet many of us have this very fear. Worse, they know we have this fear. And regardless of whether or not that fear is justified, the teachers/teacher unions have used it to their advantage. For me this is the most detestable aspect of public education and reason enough for doing away with collective bargaining for teachers. As for treating and paying teachers as professionals, this aspect of the public education game, fear of retribution, may frighten some parents into compliance but I believe it is also the most likely phenomena to backfire on the teachers, permanently damage their reputations, and maybe, just maybe, be what ignites public sentiment to pressure elected officials to make a fundamental change.

Posted by: Frank at September 10, 2007 8:58 AM

My comments were perfectly clear and the message simple. If you benefit from something, in this discussion the teachers union, have the conviction to publicly support what they are doing on your behalf. Many commentators here have told me "if you don't like it, quit."

Posted by: michael at September 10, 2007 10:18 AM

So someone that wants to teach, but only tolerates the union because failure to do so would be being ostracized and getting your tires slashed in the parking lot, should PRETEND loudly and proudly to support the union?

Posted by: Greg at September 10, 2007 10:43 AM

Nobody should PRETEND anything, that is my point. Speaking your mind doesn't get you ostrasized, at least not in my union hall. I get more respect there as a conservative than I do on the comments section of this blog. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. If the teachers don't agree with what their union is doing, they should say it in the union hall, loud and clear. They're teachers, for gods sake, not the Soprano's.

Posted by: michael at September 10, 2007 1:54 PM

Yeah, cuz union heads respect your opinions when they're different from the leadership. That's why they allow all of those secret ballots. To allow people to speak their minds with no fear of repercussion.

What? You mean they DON'T allow secret ballots?! I wonder why...

Posted by: Greg at September 10, 2007 3:42 PM

my union alows secret ballots and always has.

Posted by: michael at September 10, 2007 4:15 PM

The teachers in EG we not given the opportunity to have a secret ballot before striking. It was a 'unanimous' voice vote.

By 'allowing' do you mean that every vote is automatically a secret ballot or that no vote is by secret ballot but if somebody asked for it they would allow for it?

Posted by: Greg at September 10, 2007 4:23 PM

If I tell you that information I may have to kill you, so read at your own risk. A secret ballot vote is available if somebody secretly asks for one. Major decisions such as contract ratification, picketing and things of a contentious nature are automatically done by secret ballot. Everyday stuff such as when to have the steak fry is aye or nay with the ayes or nays prevailing by voice vote. It is actually a very civilized and democratic process. Everybody is given a chance to speak, there is no tire slashing allowed.

Posted by: michael at September 10, 2007 4:35 PM

>>there is no tire slashing allowed.

LIUNA and/or the Teamsters would be happy to give you lessons.

Representative Paul Moura (Democrat) of the General Assembly (his job) and LIUNA (his paycheck) would also be happy to provide lessons on how to pat people down to see if they're wearing a wire.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at September 10, 2007 7:51 PM

The teachers in EG we not given the opportunity to have a secret ballot before striking. It was a 'unanimous' voice vote.

By 'allowing' do you mean that every vote is automatically a secret ballot or that no vote is by secret ballot but if somebody asked for it they would allow for it?

Posted by: Greg at September 11, 2007 7:41 AM
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