Union Life Cycle and Expectations

Jim Hummel made the point, while filling in for Dan Yorke today, that teacher union contracts are the product of years — decades — of cumulative negotiations. Compromise on X for reason A, one year, and expect to make it up a few years down the road. Consequently, a rollback (his point goes), as appears likely in East Providence, throws some sort of delicate balance off kilter for the teachers.
The problem with this approach is that unions have no employment life cycle. They latch on to the district and remain there, in theory, as long as the schools exist. An individual employee in the private sector will see his or her remuneration go up and down, shifting from this to that, generally increasing over a career (most significantly because of promotions, rather than raises), and then retire — probably having shifted companies in the interim. Eventually, the increased cost of that employee’s equity with the company goes away.
The way the unions work their contract is to shoot for pay increases; if they can’t get that, they go for benefit increases; if they can’t get that, they go for perks; if they can’t get that, they seek to shift work environment and employment terms. But unions don’t retire, and they don’t shift to another district to chase opportunity.
That is to say that the district never gets relief from those cumulative negotiations. As they mount, there’s only so much that the town can pay for education, and there are only so many work and management rules that it can afford to compromise before the cost is seen in the quality of students’ education. As they struggle to maintain the rule that teachers’ employment packages never diminish, they begin to cut facilities and program spending.
Hummel also mentioned that every teacher whom he has asked about the union’s behavior at the East Providence School Committee meeting last night has seen nothing wrong with it. I’d suggest that the reason for this egregious blind spot is that the union organization has invested many years of effort persuading teachers that “this is the way these things are done.” They think that all negotiation proceedings occur this way and that, otherwise, “the school committee will walk all over us.” (These aren’t direct quotes from anybody in particular, by the way.)
I guess the long and short of it is that teachers ought to be professionals, and public sector professionals oughtn’t be unionized.

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OldTimeLefty
13 years ago

Justin,
You wrote:

I’d suggest that the reason for this egregious blind spot is that the union organization has invested many years of effort persuading teachers that “this is the way these things are done.” They think that all negotiation proceedings occur this way and that, otherwise, “the school committee will walk all over us.” (These aren’t direct quotes from anybody in particular, by the way.)

If they aren’t direct quotes from anybody, they are the product of your vast mind. But wait, I take it back, since they are at best half truths, make it a half-vast mind. Great job of debating with yourself – the very definition of the straw man argument.
OldTimeLefty

Justin Katz
13 years ago

Actually, even if I were to concede that there’s a problem with what I’ve written, it wouldn’t be a strawman argument. Hummel made an observation, and I speculated as to its origin. A strawman argument is when one debates a point that nobody’s making.

fran
fran
13 years ago

If the teachers wanted to be treated like professionals, why the union? This union is modeled on factory worker employment giving “workers” seniority, longevity pay, etc. Imagine your heart surgeon getting replaced due to cutbacks and seniority by a proctologist? Same theory.
Last night one of the teachers complained he had to bring in his own laptop for lack of up to date technology. Well, gee, all money is going to their salary and benefits. With 87 cents out of every dollar going to excessive benefits, there’s not much left.
This course of events has occurred because school committee members in the past have all had union connections, thereby, enjoying the increase of the very benefits they negotiated at our expense. Last night, their one and only hack, Luisa Abatecola, got a standing ovation from the union. Go figure how her votes are going to be.
And finally, the professionalism is in question, ladies and gents! One teacher approached us and grabbed one of our tee shirts that said “Support Our School Committee”. There he stood and ripped in right in front of us. It was neither his property or his right to do that. One man paid for all those shirts and he just bullied his way in and did that. Fine lesson in bullying which is prohibited in schools!
The behavior on the union’s part last night was atrocious and I can’t imagine what is being taught in high school classes but a totally left wing agenda.

rhody
rhody
13 years ago

Oh, here we go with the left-wing-agenda taught in schools canard.
I know plenty of union people who are pretty conservative, and would resent being stroked with such a broad brush. There are conservatives out there who recognize the value of unions, too.
Or will they now have to turn over their conservative cards?

David
David
13 years ago

Yeah, and Hummell is such an objective source. Can you be honest? What if the East Providence School Committee meeting was dominated by angry anti-tax advocates from AR and Staley’s group and others from Tiverton and other communities, and they shouted down all speakers and opponents. What would the commentary be on AR and WPRO? How many would be condemning the actions of the protesters? Can you be honest? You guys are anti-union and anti-labor and are probably not who you claim to be. I figure you are funded by national anti-tax groups.

Justin Katz
13 years ago

Well, it’s difficult to offer a response to somebody who imputes dishonesty from the get go, but I will say that it’s been my experience that the taxpayer groups and such tend to let the other side speak. They can be goaded into poor behavior during a performance such as last night’s, of course, but they certainly don’t begin there.
At any rate, I continually argue for their good behavior, because bad behavior detracts from their message, which is ultimately correct.
As for your allegation that we’re some secret cell of a national group, well, I’ll be sure to ponder what life might be like were we actually funded by one tomorrow while I continue ripping up linoleum tiles over two layers of 1/2″ CDX.

Keith Flanagan
13 years ago

I enjoyed reading the article and comments. As a college student who learned that the unions are all good, some of them are but not when they act like complete idiots. it is not surprising to me that the teacher unions would do something like that. I feel bad for them that they are going to suffer threw hard times but we all are. The economy is horrible right now. This state is a in a financial pandemic, we can not continue to spend x amount of money. The union officials are making the matter worse by letting their members go bonkers during the meeting.

Will
Will
13 years ago

“Yeah, and Hummell is such an objective source.”
No, he’s somewhat left of center, but again, he’s no longer a journalist.
“What if the East Providence School Committee meeting was dominated by angry anti-tax advocates from AR and Staley’s group and others from Tiverton and other communities, and they shouted down all speakers and opponents.”
But they didn’t, and as a general rule, they don’t, because they have class. Harry Staley was there last night, and the only yelling I saw, was directed at him by union reps. By the way, RISC is not anti-tax, it’s for generally lower levels of taxation. We need taxation to pay for basic public services.
“You guys are anti-union and anti-labor and are probably not who you claim to be. I figure you are funded by national anti-tax groups.”
Obviously, you don’t know much about AR. Anchor Rising is “funded” by Justin Katz and whomever chooses to pay for advertising on it. I think Justin would be very surprised to learn he’s under the control of nefarious puppet masters somewhere. It’s probably the CFR or Trilateral Commission, right? 😉

Will
Will
13 years ago

For the record, I am very open about the fact that I do not believe in public sector unions, because they have an adversarial relationship to the people who fund their employment. In addition, they have a disproportionately strong influence in the political process, which ultimately leads to corruption and influence peddling. Remember, public employees are net tax consumers, not net tax payers. They always cost us money.
However, I do not have a problem with unions in the private sector, so long as employees are not coerced into belonging to them, or dues payments are forced to be made by them. I don’t have a problem with it, because if they ask for too much from their employer, the employer can go bankrupt, move their operations overseas, or go completely out of business, leaving them jobless. There is a “check and balance” involved in the private sector, because ultimately, there is market competition involved. The employees have a direct incentive to keep the company operating at a profit for the long term, and they are accordingly rewarded for their labor.
Ronald Reagan once said:
“I believe in collective bargaining in the private sector. I do not believe in it for the public sector, because I do not believe that public employees can be allowed to strike. Public employees are striking against the People, and the People are the highest source of power, other than the Lord Himself, that the government has.”
Amen. Interestingly enough, he actually said that 8 years before the PATCO strike. PATCO, PATCO, it’s out of work you go…

David
David
13 years ago

Will – Let Justin speak for himself. He does a good job of it in a convoluted kind of a way.

OldTimeLefty
13 years ago

Justin,
I don’t know where you got your definition, but here’s another one:

“As the ‘straw man’ metaphor suggests, the counterfeit position attacked in a Straw Man argument is typically weaker than the opponent’s actual position, just as a straw man is easier to defeat than a flesh-and-blood one. Of course, this is no accident, but is part of what makes the fallacy tempting to commit, especially to a desperate debater who is losing an argument.” Fallacyfiles.org/strawman.html

To fabricate a quote and then set up your argument against the quote that you made = Straw Man argument.
OldTimeLefty

Justin Katz
13 years ago

But that’s not what I did. I didn’t present the quotations and then argue against them; I used them to illustrate a hypothesized reason that teachers believe their conduct to be appropriate.
You can justly disagree with my suggestion, but it isn’t accurate to label it as a logical fallacy, generally, or a strawman, specifically.

George Elbow
George Elbow
13 years ago

David / Old-Time-Lefty,
What Justin described is as about as on point as one can get.
Why don’t you be specific in your disagreements with his points? What specifically did he get wrong? What are the “half truths” to which you refer?
And pease include in your response the interplay between what Justin described and the that peculiar Union thing called “tenure”.
Lastly, perhaps you could explain why these disgruntled “professionals” don’t simply take their “talents” elsewhere to “earn” the high pay they demand. Presumably, with all their talents, there must be many entities that would line up to pay top dollar to obtain their services??
Thanks.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
13 years ago

Will says,
“Remember, public employees are net tax consumers, not net tax payers. They always cost us money.”
I believe that this is not correct. Do firefighters cost us money? Only if you only count the cost of their service and not the value of it. Would we be better if with no cops? Would the state’s economy be better with no DOT to build and repair roads?
Do public college and university professors like me cost us money? Last I checked, the average difference in lifetime earnings between a HS grad and a college grad was close to a million dollars. Add to the individual benefit the gains in productivity and innovation, and finally the tax dollars collected on those higher salaries and the goods purchased with them, and I think you’ll see that they are producing far more value for the state than they consume in tax dollars (especially now that the state’s share of funding higher education has dropped so low).
This isn’t an argument about unions, or even an argument about the appropriate level of compensation. I simply dispute the idea that public employment or government in general, is a net cost rather than a net benefit. They fact that no state has yet thought about giving up on cops, firefighters, public education or government in general is pretty good proof of that.

Will
Will
13 years ago

Thomas,
I know you mean well, so I’m not going to tear apart your argument, but the unemotional dollars and cents of it are that they represent an expenditure of public funds, regardless of what we get in return (which one could easily argue, is not worth the outlay). If all of the functions you mentioned were privatized, it would certainly cost less, but it would still cost us money.
This is only about the bottom line. We’re broke. Period.
PS There is no residency requirement for public employees in East Providence .. at present, so one could dispute whether we even get the tax money from many of them at all. I know it’s not a simple thing to calculate.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
13 years ago

Will,
You say, “I know you mean well, so I’m not going to tear apart your argument,”
That’s very kind, but please feel free.
you say, “they represent an expenditure of public funds, regardless of what we get in return (which one could easily argue, is not worth the outlay).”
That’s exactly my point. You said public employees were a net cost, not a net benefit. I disagree. You can’t argue that they are a net cost “regardless of what we get in return”, since what we get in return of part of the calculation of net cost or benefit.
Moreover, the benefit provided to any community by its teachers far less the tax dollars they pay from their salaries than the tax revenues produced by the increased incomes of the kids they teach, not to mention that educated people are more likely to hire other people, that educated people commit less crime, are less likely to be on assistance, are more informed voters, etc., (I’d add a number of other good things that come to a community through education (art, music, sports, etc).
Finally, if it would really cost less to society to privatize fire, police and education (defense too??) why is it so little done?

Justin Katz
13 years ago

Thomas,
I’m going to need you to provide some proof of this claim’s accuracy and relevance:

Moreover, the benefit provided to any community by its teachers far less the tax dollars they pay from their salaries than the tax revenues produced by the increased incomes of the kids they teach, not to mention that educated people are more likely to hire other people.

I don’t believe that such a high percentage of young adults remain in the towns of their raising as to make the increase in income based on education sufficiently high, in the aggregate, to counterbalance the huge amount of money spent on teachers.
I’m not making broad claims about the value of education, here, but you’re going beyond such claims to make a specific financial point.

Andrew
Andrew(@carroll-andrew-morse)
Editor
13 years ago

Thomas,
You’re mixing the concepts of cost and benefit with gain and loss, which are not interchangeable. By your definitions, a trip to grocery store always “costs” nothing, because the purchaser walks out of the store with a set of goods equal in value to what was spent.
But that’s not a useful analysis for figuring out whether an individual can and should spend $10 rather than $1,000 on a given trip.

Ragin' Rhode Islander
Ragin' Rhode Islander
13 years ago

–Finally, if it would really cost less to society to privatize fire, police and education (defense too??) why is it so little done?
Maybe the fact that when a certain Governor of a certain Northeast state tried that a couple of years ago a certain “General Assembly” acting (as usual) at the behest of its union puppet-masters passed a midnight bill effectively killing the practice.

OldTimeLefty
13 years ago

George Elbow, here are some specific disagreements, as requested. The italics represent quotes from Justin’s scree, my comments follow each quote.
unions have no employment life cycle.
Not quite true, a half truth at best. It confuses the institution (relatively permanent) with the membership (always dynamic and mutable). Teachers enter at the lowest end of the pay scale and gradually receive pay raises as they accumulate years of service and experience and education, they then retire and are replaced by new teachers at the low end. To sum with an analogy, to impeach the president is not to impeach the presidency.
An individual employee in the private sector will see his or her remuneration go up and down, shifting from this to that, generally increasing over a career (most significantly because of promotions, rather than raises), and then retire..
The parenthetical comment raises a very questionable point. I don’t know where Justin got the statistics to back up this statement, but we need to define “promotion” -for example, is an in step pay increase a promotion or a simply means to a pay raise based on longevity. So, Justin needs to clarify and explain here, otherwise he has freely asserted, and I freely deny.
But unions don’t retire, and they don’t shift to another district to chase opportunity.
Maybe not, but companies shift venues, and they leave a workforce in the lurch. I remember the Philadelphia area as a leader in textile production until the companies shifted operations to the Southern states for cheaper and more docile workers. This lasted several years and then they shifted operations overseas to an even more docile and cheaper work force to countries with no unions and their resultant sweatshops.
OldTimeLefty

Mike Cappelli
Mike Cappelli
13 years ago

Perhaps a more accurate analogy for the point Hummel was eluding to is this:
Public employee unions are like a cancer; unless eliminated, they will kill you.

George Elbow
George Elbow
13 years ago

OTL,
Thanks for the clarifications.
Allow a few responses:
1)You wrote: “Teachers enter at the lowest end of the pay scale and gradually receive pay raises as they accumulate years of service and experience and education.”
– Most employees, not just Teachers, enter their field at the “lowest end of the pay scale”. However, there is NOTHING “gradual” about the rate at which Teachers receive raises. In RI, Teachers reach Top Step after just 9 years on the job. Starting in year 10, a RI Teacher earns ~$70k (not counting degree stipends and other Union goodies). This equates to the Private-sector equivalent of ~$103k based on the # of days / hours worked.
How many “professionals” in the Private-sector can expect to be earning ~$103k per year after just 9 years on the job, never mind enjoy the Job Security (the Tenure thing I asked you to talk about) and the ludicrous Health & Pension Benefits that our Union Teachers extract from the hard working Taxpayers?
2) You take issue with the concept of promotions raised by Justin. Teachers are NOT promoted. They merely move up in Step based on the passage of time, with zero consideration for merit or accomplishment. There is really nothing to debate on that issue.
The bottom line is that Mike Cappelli sums it up quite nicely.

OldTimeLefty
12 years ago

George Elbow,
You changed the argument. Justin said, “unions have no employment life cycle and I said that they do. You argued that the pay scale increases are too great which is quite another thing. In so arguing you have agreed with my proposition that unions do indeed have an employment life cycle. We are talking about degree here which is quite another proposition. You argued degree, and in so doing conceded the point. The pay scale argument is for another time and day. I’d be happy to pick it up under a different topic.
OldTimeLefty

Justin Katz
12 years ago

OTL,
You’re the one confusing the unions with their membership. My point was made specifically in the context of Hummel’s suggestion about maintaining gains within union contracts, which are not affected by the employment life cycles of individual teachers.
Regarding the promotions statement: At least to my experience in several fields, a worker who wants a significant increase in pay must shift roles, generally toward management.

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