Editorial: Public school employees under attack

According to the Associated Press, these include a clause that says teachers’ lounges must be “attractive, comfortable, and spacious” in the School City of East Chicago—and one that says carpets must be vacuumed using a “filtration method that filters at greater than 99 percent efficient at 0.3 micron” in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

Yep, those teachers sure do drive a hard bargain. Now we know what’s holding back our schools’ success; they’re clearly too busy trying to vacuum the carpets correctly.

Listening to the torches-and-pitchforks brigade who regularly call talk radio programs and lambaste unions, you might think the negotiating power of teachers and other public-sector employees is the main reason so many states are awash in red ink. But the facts don’t bear this out. As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has noted, there is little or no correlation between public employees’ collective bargaining rights and states’ current budget situations.

For more on school labor-management relations:

ED to unions, districts: Can’t we all just get along?

How to raise student achievement through better labor-management collaboration

Wisconsin protests grow as teachers balk at proposed legislation

For more on school reform:

Expert: Federal school reform plan is wrong

School Reform Center at eSN Online

“Some states that deny their employees bargaining rights—Nevada, North Carolina, and Arizona, for example—are running giant deficits of over 30 percent of spending,” he wrote in a blog post earlier this year. “Many [states] that give employees bargaining rights—[such as] Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Montana—have small deficits of less than 10 percent.”

What’s more, he wrote, “… over the last 15 years the pay of public-sector workers has dropped relative to private-sector employees with the same level of education. Public-sector workers now earn 11 percent less than comparable workers in the private sector. … Even if you include health and retirement benefits, government employees still earn less than their private-sector counterparts with similar educations.”

Proponents of these bills argue that teacher contracts often stand in the way of real education reforms aimed at helping students. And while there is some truth to this idea, making public employees the scapegoat for taxpayers’ wrath is also a convenient shell game that diverts attention from the fact that conservative lawmakers are pushing for more tax cuts for the wealthy at a time when middle-class families are suffering.

Dennis Pierce

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