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.