August 30, 2009

The Unions and Their Jobs

Justin Katz

David makes a perspicacious comment to my post on the item in the teachers' contract that the school committee approved in January that effectively extended the contract for an additional year because the deadline for notification of intention to negotiate had already passed:

Actually, justin, you may be on to something. Union officials act as legal representatives for their membership and are charged with only that mission. The example that you wrote about- well that's all on the school committee for not knowing their own contract with the union. You insist on calling it a union contract when it is a contract between two parties. Both are held to its terms. Where you have something is in the reality that individual union members are often times members of the community where they work, and, are often times very interested and concerned about issues facing their community. In the case of teachers, police, firefighters, and social workers it is often the case that they are more concerned- because they have a closer view and knowledge of local issues and problems than say a Boston area worker who leaves their home in Tiverton at 6:30 in the morning and returns at 6:30 at night. Teachers often times know the community through the children better than anyone else. If you can convince those community members that their union representatives are the problem and change is needed in their own workplace than you will have a chance. Union members acting in the democratic framework of their union could help affect the changes you seek.

Realizing that it would be too much to hope that one party in these "fair-minded" negotiations would have clarified with the other that it was effectively approving the contract for an additional year, I do and did hold the school committee members responsible (and will, via future elections). Truth be told, I also allocate some blame to myself for having not been sufficiently familiar with previous contract language to have raised this question during public commentary. I suspect that might have been the one thing that could have scuttled what was clearly a fait accompli at the fateful January meeting.

With that clarification, I'd note that David is dead on to raise the importance of individual union members in changing the dynamic. Just as I'd be tempted to make it a civic requirement that every resident attend at least one school committee meeting during contract negotiation season, so as to observe, first hand, the undertone of violence that the union audience stirs up to waft onto the dais, I'd encourage teachers to spend some time pondering the structures and regimes of their non-educational organization.

As I've been given to understand, for example, a typical negotiation session involves the superintendent and couple of committee representatives at a table with two or three leaders of the local union, while a larger union negotiating committee waits in a nearby room, sometimes with a rep from the statewide organization manipulating the temper among them. (Pat Crowley, I understand, can be heard through the walls.) The small group will bring items back to the larger group and return with ostensible instructions, and ultimately the negotiating committee brings the result back to the entire membership for approval. Meanwhile, as we've seen in Tiverton, the union will go public with unverifiable claims and complaints that the entire school committee isn't available in the theatrically controlled space to negotiate the contract. (A con is much easier when there's no opportunity for head-clearing air.) Moreover, at no time is the administration or committee permitted to appeal directly to the professionals whose contracts they're negotiating.

While times were flush and the citizenry was inactive, this might have seemed like a fun pastime — and remunerative, too! Union members across the Rhode Island public sector should consider, however, the effect of shifting public opinion as taxpayer groups generate an institutional investment in continued awareness. That is to say that we aren't going away, and with the processes coming out, the folks who've ultimately suffered from the game are going to be less inclined to tolerate it.

Because the pendulum always swings too far, a clever gotcha in one year's contract could ensure that somebody with a set jaw and brow as furrowed as my own will end up at that negotiating table, demanding that public-access video cameras be set up to capture the edifying performance.

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Interesting that you blast the unions for an alleged overtone of violence. I was just thinking the same thing about some of the healthcare town forums and the level of anger there. I was just wondering when the last time was that you saw an assault rifle at a school committe / union meeting.

Posted by: Kityykat at August 30, 2009 10:23 AM

Not very often, Kityykat.

We did see some people in paramilitary dress brandishing night sticks and uttering threats and racial slurs at a polling place during the 2008 election.

Ah, but we know that that activity is perfectly acceptable because Attorney General Holder ordered that the case against the men be dropped. Hmm, back to the drawing board ...

Posted by: Monique at August 30, 2009 11:56 AM

All one needs to know about the "negotiating" that goes on between the local School Committees and the Union-hacks is that NEA-RI, run by Bob Walsh, hired a lobbyist, Henry Boeniger, to lobby AGAINST Gov. Carceiri's common sense proposed legislation that would require municipalities to hold public hearings to review tentative labor agreements BEFORE they are finalized. A fiscal impact statement would also be required to ensure an understanding of the true costs of contracts BEFORE final approval.

At the time, Boeniger said “I just think it’s another form of causing some undue harassment by allowing this process.” Harassment he says?? Has he not met Bob Walsh's #2 clown, Patrick Crowley?

He further stated “We elect officials to negotiate contracts. It’s sort of like letting other people negotiate contracts.” But he doesn't seem to think it's an issue when the local Union-hacks bring in NEA reps to assist?

The hyprocracy of the Unions is glaring. And the pendulum is swinging against them, as they have killed the Golden Goose.

Posted by: George Elbow at August 30, 2009 12:40 PM

And let's not forget that once their union "representatives" "negotiate" a contract, the rank and file (unlike the taxpayers) get to give it an up or down vote.

The bottom line is that the interests of the teachers unions are diametrically opposed to the interests of children, their parents and taxpayers.

From an educational and public policy standpoint, the teachers unions bring nothing positive to the table.

Posted by: Tom W at August 30, 2009 1:20 PM

Smart, savvy individual union members would be more likely to call BS on their unions' untoward policies or stances were it not for the constant slamming on all union members, rank and file as well as the leadership.
All the attacks do is build solidarity, even at times when solidarity might not be such a good thing.

Posted by: rhody at August 30, 2009 8:04 PM


You seem to have confused the cause and effect.

The slamming of Unions is the direct result of the hypocrisy and Entitlement-minded mindset of the Union leadership and their compliant flock.

Don't make excuses for the sheep.

1 - Union members are allowed to review and vote on contracts, but they hypocritically reject any notion of the Taxpaying public having the same opportunity.

2 - Union leadership at highest levels publish false reports without so much as a wimper from the flock. Witness Patrick "I struggle mightly with math" Crowley's BS claim that “the cost of teaching has risen slower than overall inflation". Any fool knows that to be utter BS, even the Union-hack knuckleheads that are producing students with just 22% math proficiency. Crowley compared 5 years of Spending growth to 7 years of Inflation. Yet, not a single Union-hack member spoke up to correct the record and provide truth-in-advertising. A group of people with high integrity, right?

3 - Year after year, Union-hack members sit idly by while the Press reports that Contracts are providing Salary increases of 3-4%, when in fact the Salary increases provided to the employees range from a low of 3-4% to as high as 18%. Again, you've gotta be impressed with their integrity.

4 - The flock makes a living out of Grading students (A students, B students, C studens, Flunked student, etc.), yet they resist any and all efforts to Grade themselves, instead clinging to the destructive and anti-productive "seniority" model in which promotion and reward is based on the passage of time as opposed to merit and achievment.

5 - By all objective measures, perpetually poor performing schools at unsustainable costs. Oh that's right, it's the fault of the children they are trying "teach" and /or because we are only #10 in money spent on education. We need to flush more money down the toilet if we expect good results, right.

I could go on, Rhody. But I think you should get the picture.

The public's disdain for the Unions is well deserved and well placed.

Perhaps when the good teachers begin to take a stand against the best getting paid the same as the worst, or speak up the next time Bob Walsh and his clown side-kick, Patrick Crowley, blanket the press with false and misleading information, the public will begin again to have respect for Public Union school teachers.

My guess is that it won't be happening any time soon, as it would take some courage and individualism for that to happen, both of which are the antithesis of a Union.

Posted by: George Elbow at August 30, 2009 9:02 PM

Individual union members are taxpayers and voters. They like all the rest of us act out of self interest. It is in their self interest to join the workplace union and be represented by professionals. Too bad this choice is not nearly as available in the private sector. They like the rest of us have the right to try to effect the policies of their government. They also have the right to effect the policies of their unions through democratic means as David writes, something that is not available to private sector workers unless they belong to a union or an association.
Most of these public sector workers will work in their communities for 30 or more years. They will see politicians come and go. Teachers particularly will see administrators come and go. They will see many school committee people come and go. Also they will see the taxpayer groups that form and make their noise come and go. But through that time they will stay and continue to do the essential work in those communities. That and their selflessness in joining together as a group will sustain them and their respective communities. Not so with the taxpayer groups. As you mention, Justin, when times are bad, people pay more attention to their local government. That's not a bad thing at all, but do not try to equate that with the longtime commitment to a community of the teacher or other public sector worker. Formed out of anger and selfishness these taxpayer groups fall apart after a short time. It's hard to keep people worked up and angry enough to overcome their basic selfishness. They stay involved for a while and then move back to more comfortable pursuits or to things that meet their self interest more directly. Most people would rather be with their families than sitting in overheated rooms being bored to tears or trying to manufacture outrage that amounts to pettiness. How could anyone keep doing that for thirty years?

Posted by: Phil at August 31, 2009 7:06 AM

Please explain; when teachers join together it is selflessness and when taxpayers join together it is selfish. I did not choose to be a taxpayer, I did not seek membership in the taxpayers' club, I receive a tax bill and I pay it. It is not out of anger that I require from those that spend my tax dollars that they account for every penny, it is my right as a citizen. When did it become acceptable to bash taxpayers?

Posted by: bobc at August 31, 2009 12:58 PM

The Unions have nothing to do with "the essential work in those communities", nor do the Unions have anything to do with "sustaining their respective communities".

Quite the opposite in fact. Dig your head out of your rear-end and read a Union contract. It is all about minimizing the amount of "essential work" that needs to be done in communities, while maximizing the Cost to the Taxpayers.

The real rub is that, particularly with 13% unemployment, the Union hacks hide behind "collective bargaining" laws rather than allowing the free market determine their worth.

They inflate the cost of services and then you complain when Taxpayers revolt / complain.

The fact is that without the diaper that is the Union, most of these hacks could not sustain long-term employment in the real world.

You must be a Public Employee Union-hack on the tit, no? Or perhaps married to one?

Posted by: George Elbow at August 31, 2009 6:59 PM


It is not a selfish act to join together. It is the underlying selfishness of many who form taxpayer groups that I am referring to. Notice the pronoun you chose to use when writing about taxes.

George Elbow

Welcome back from wherever you went.

Posted by: Phil at September 1, 2009 6:03 AM

What pronoun would you have me use. I am an individual who can only speak for myself.

Posted by: bobc at September 1, 2009 3:36 PM


I was out of town, on a trip to Mars in search of you.

You (and your warped views) are from Mars, aren't you? :)

Posted by: George Elbow at September 1, 2009 7:47 PM
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