Feedback and the Public Sector Exemption
A recurring theme arose when the Providence School Board voted to eliminate administrator unionization:
[Stephen Kane, executive secretary of the Association of Providence Public School and Staff Administrators] now worries that the fate of each administrator will be left to “the whim of the School Board. Of course, it’s going to get personal. It’s going to get political.”
You can call it “whim” or “judgment,” but granting responsibility throughout any organizational hierarchy is the most effective way to ensure efficiency and productivity. Whether the goal is corporate profit or public education, whether consumers react to policies through purchase decisions or taxpayers through votes, administrators must be accountable to policy makers, and policy makers must be accountable to stakeholders.
Unions certainly change the calculation a bit for their members, but not unlike resistors in an electrical circuit, they inherently distort the feedback loop by distributing some of that responsibility onto labor processes. That can have its benefits, but over the long term, it hinders the organization’s ability to adjust to the interests of those it ostensibly serves.
And when the organization is a government entity, it can survive by fiat as problems fester.
“now worries that the fate of each administrator will be left to “the whim of the School Board.”
Yeah, just like my fate is at the whim of my management. Somehow, I’ve survived in my job for 10 years.
Oh wait, that’s right, it’s called “doing a good job”.
The union in my agency complains constantly about the management and members file grievances every time their bosses looks at them funny. I’ve had zero problems and have received nothing but praise and generosity since I arrived. Know my secret? I work hard and I try to make my manager’s job easier. You don’t have to be Dale Carnegie to get along, you just have to not be a useless, ungrateful, work-to-ruling slob – way too much to ask from most of the old guard, but those are the people who keep paying their $500-1000 dues year after year and the union spends all its time protecting. Good employees need the union like they need another hole in their head – we’re referred to as “free loaders” in the union newsletters.
I think my managers are great – very reasonable and respectful. Once you head down that adversarial union path it’s a never-ending black hole of grievance after compounding grievance. Walking personality conflicts complain aloud that they don’t get promoted despite “knowing more than anybody.” Guess what, that’s life. They would have been let go a loooooong time ago if they worked for a voluntary organization, but they have no idea how lucky they are because all they’ve ever known is ironclad job security and a never-ending stream of perks and benefits. I don’t think it’s an age issue, but it certainly is generational. If they simply let everybody over 60 go tomorrow, we would be twice as efficient and the atmosphere would be orders of magnitude more positive. They did recently offer an early retirement option, but the old guard is “holding out for a $50,000 buyout” if you can believe that. Nothing is ever enough for these people.