Minor Thoughts from me to you

Unions and the "Rights of the Workers"

I took a lot of heat after my last post, Are Teacher's Overpaid?. That's okay. I'm used to it. Let me quickly reiterate my main point from that post: I have no idea idea whether or not teachers are overpaid. Without a functioning marketplace for teachers and employers, it's impossible to know if teachers are overpaid or underpaid. What we really need in education is more information. And only a switch away from a monopoly educational system will give us that. We can start arguing over pay after we get a market.

I was told that, given the hours teachers work and the bureaucracy teachers deal with, it's only common sense that teachers are underpaid. I was told that I didn't need a market to tell me what any teacher could tell me. I was told that teachers take the jobs they do because they don't have any choice and they endure horrific working conditions because they truly believe in education.

Well, most jobs are crappy in some degree or another — just ask the poor sucker actually working the job. By that logic, should everyone get an awesome salary and gold-plated benefits? Who decides whose job is suckier, to merit awesomer pay? This is why you need a market, to settle those questions openly. And, of course teachers will tell you that they're underpaid. How many people really, honestly, say "Nope. I'm well paid. Give my raise to someone else" or "Nope. I'm overpaid. Want 5% back this year? It really wasn't my best effort, you know."

If teachers were as underpaid as they constantly claim, they'd leave for a different job. Period. They do have choices. Every teacher I've ever met has the smarts and skills to succeed in a different field, if they wanted to. They're not trapped in a job that they're being forced to work in. They're not slaves. They can leave anytime they want.

Don't misunderstand me here. I am saying teachers are whiners. I'm not saying that teachers are the only employees that whine about working conditions. I'm saying that every worker in every industry is a whiner. Even in my industry. Especially in my industry. I've been part of after-work bull sessions where we all gripe about how unfair we have it and how we're being worked like Mike Vick's dogs. We whine. And yet we still like our jobs enough to go back and do it with a mostly cheerful heart. Whining proves nothing. Actions prove words.

Actions like quitting. That's serious. If enough teachers leave, schools will have to offer wages sufficiently high enough to entice the teachers back. Salaries and benefits will rise. That's exactly the way it works in any other sector of the economy.

I've been accused of listening to someone cry "Fire!" from a burning building and merely responding with a callous "Move somewhere else!". I've been accused of telling teachers to just "Shut up and teach". But neither accusation is true.

The implication is that if I hear a shout of "Fire!", I should immediately spring into action. I disagree with that. If someone is shouting "Fire!", I'd first look to see if there was, in fact, a fire. If there wasn't, I'd shrug and move on. Performance art, or something, you know? You would too, unless you wanted to join in the art performance.

I also don't think teachers should just "Shut up and teach". I fully believe in the right of any worker to quit any job that he or she thinks is unjust or unfair. I fully support the right of every worker to quit a job and move to another job that has better pay, better benefits, a better work environment, more job satisfaction, or that's just more convenient.

Teachers and other public employees should have exactly the same rights as any other employee in any other sector of the economy. No one is chaining them to their desks, forcing them to work. No once is "forcing them to bend over and take it in the ass". They can leave. The same way I can leave my job, if my benefits and salary get slashed below a level I'm willing to accept.

When 40% of teachers start walking off of the job for good, I'll gladly admit that they're underpaid and start working to figure out what pay and benefit package they do want. But they're not doing that.

Sadly, most teachers have only themselves to blame for the fact that their education work choices are limited to the government or the government. Through the unions, they constantly fight any attempt whatsoever to end government monopoly control of education. They scream to the high heavens whenever someone talks about introducing multiple employers into the education world (through Charter schools, voucher schools, or through increased scholarships to privates schools). Then they scream to the high heavens when that one employer (the local School District or the State) talks about doing something they don't like. It's short sighted.

There are no other employers to compare the government to, to help decide whether or not teachers are being abused. That's why teachers need a market with more than one employer. A market where they would actually have multiple businesses competing to hire them. Then they could have a choice of employers, pay packages, benefits, etc.

I'm perfectly willing to pay teachers more. I'm eager to pay great teachers a lot more. But, before I do, I want proof that the extra money is actually needed. Especially since that money comes out of my property taxes each and every year. If there were more employers, if teachers supported ending the employer monopoly, there would be proof. They could say "Hey, pay me more or I walk across the street to accept a job that pays 10% more and gives me a TA to help with the workload".

And, you bet anything you want, I'll send my kids to the schools that gives teachers a nice pay/benefits package and has happy teachers teaching good classes. Absolutely I would. I'm a Mac user for Pete's sake. I've bought 3 Toyota's in a row. I hardly ever pick the cheapest option when I'm looking to buy something new. I buy quality. I've always bought quality and I'm completely willing to pay for it.

I'm talking favorably about taking away some power from a union — not from teachers themselves — that has tried to block every single major reform proposal set forth over the last 30 years. Charter schools. Voucher schools. Virtual (online) schools. Teacher merit pay. Teacher quality rankings. Alternative routes for teacher certification. Every. Single. One.

The union does not want quality. It wants higher pay for teacher's doing the exact same thing thing that they've always done. It won't allow progress. It won't allow change of any kind. It just wants me to fork over more money for salaries year after year.

Again. Teachers are complaining because the monopoly employer is offering a pay package that they think sucks. And everytime someone proposes ending the monopoly employer and giving teachers a choice of employers with a choice of pay packages, they throw a temper tantrum and demonize the person who suggested doing so.

I've wanted teachers to have a choice of employers for 15 years. I've wanted schools, that have less bureaucracy and better working conditions, to have a chance to thrive. I've wanted schools where parents can have more of say in policies and where parents and teachers can have better working relations.

Who's really being unreasonable here?