Tag Archives: teacher strikes

A Few Words on Janus

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I’ve always thought the free speech aspect of the Janus case was purely nonsense. Eugene Volokh argued that Abood was wrongly decided in granting that free speech objection in the first place, observing that “compelled subsidy of others’ speech happens all the time”.   How many state-  or CDC-funded ads do we have to sit through, watching people smoke through their breathing tubes?  Or the various “join the military” ads?

I’m not a big fan of unions,although teachers unions come in for a lot of undeserved criticism. But my dislike of unions is professional–totally unrelated to the bizarro conservative hate-on which, I guess, has to do with the unions shoveling millions of easily collected dollars straight into Democrat coffers.

Still, I’m amazed, as always, at the utter cluelessness of the post-Janus gloating–which, typically, focuses almost exclusively on teacher employment, as if there’s no other public employee. I don’t think anyone’s focused on Janus’s impact on cops, for example–unsurprising, really, since the GOP likes cops and doesn’t want to fuss them.

But I’ll go with the flow and talk teachers, since that’s what I know.

First, left or right,  anyone who thinks education reform’s failure has anything to do with unions is kidding themselves. As I’ve written many times, education reform got everything it wanted for sixteen years–and as a result support for charters has plummeted,  support for unions and tenure has increased, and the ESSA deliberately and specifically targeted all the reform “advances” and ripped them into shreds.

So whatever changes Janus brings, I’d bet against Bill Bennett and Fordham Foundation.

We are in the middle of a teacher shortage, so good luck with cutting salaries, raising credential cut scores, or ending tenure. And has often been noted, the recent teacher walkouts have been in weak union states: Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kentucky. Colorado’s governor refused to sign a law that would fire striking teachers.

You know how conservatives and others say look, we don’t hate teachers, we just hate unions. Well, specific union objectives, unlike their political spending, are pretty much in line with what teachers want. In a scarce labor market, killing unions won’t make it any easier to push teachers around.

I’m likewise unconvinced that the billions of dollars the unions send to the Dems has anything to do with Democrat political success. Lordy, did you all learn nothing from Trump? Dave Brat? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

So sure, Janus will lead to less money for unions. But dream on if you think Dems are crippled or the public will suddenly sign on for teacher merit pay.

Moreover, the idea that “millions of public employees” are being forced–yea, forced!–into paying to receive union-negotiated salaries just strikes me as bogus. I don’t like my dollars going to progressive causes, and as an immigration restrictionist, I get really annoyed at union shills wailing about family separations or the travel ban. But when Republican-leaning public employees growl about unions, they are, like me, unhappy about the waste of dollars sent to left-leaning organizations. How many public workers are actively opposed to the fundamentals of public employment? I’m skeptical. If  millions of public employees were outraged by job protections and pensions, conservatives wouldn’t have had to wait so long for the odd ball public employee to hang their case on. It took them years to find Friedrichs and then Janus out on the fringes to make the case.

But why should unions be required to negotiate contracts and protect employees who don’t pay for their services? The Supreme Court waved off the “free rider” problem, but who’s to say there will be paying riders? What’s stopping all teachers from saving hundreds of dollars a year, if the unions will work the contracts no matter what?

Considering that the state laws requiring unions to represent non-members have just been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, the unions have a logical next step.

Unions should refuse to work for free. They won’t  provide any service to non-members.

Some services can be easily split between members and non-members. Job protections and other benefits, for example, are easily managed. Non-members who oppose job protections can just live with a greater risk of termination, while members can still ask for union representation.

But contract and salary negotiations apply to all employees, members or not. So unions should refuse to engage in these activities for any salary schedule that has less than 100% membership. Neither members nor non-members will get new salary schedules until someone else steps up to that task–and that someone else will want to be paid.

I can envision many ways out of the chaos that ensues, but certain truths seem obvious. Salary negotiation for millions of teachers, firefighters, police officers, DMV workers, prison guards and the rest is a labor (heh) intensive task. Right now, public employees pay for that task through their union representation. If unions refuse to do this, then how will public employees get raises? Fond fantasies aside, at some point the government is going to have to figure out how to replace that service.

While conservatives dream of a world in which government employees negotiate their salaries individually, absorbing the cost at a unit level, their dreams probably don’t include the onslaught of lawsuits that would follow in a world where local government officials decided salaries on merit. That’s why most charter and private schools use salary schedules, despite their ostensible freedom from these one-size-fits-all charts.

If unions just flatly ended all contract negotiations, the pressure for a Janus-fix would be immediate, particularly for teachers and cops. But wait! unions say–at least, this is what I think they should say. We’re not here to be obstructionist.  We’ll offer membership “tiers”.

Tier 1: Contract and salary negotiations only. Price: a couple hundred at most.
Tier 2: Tier 1 plus performance issues representation. Price: five hundred at most.
Tier 3: Tier 2 plus the cool bennies, political spending, other perks. Price: one thousand at most.

All employees on a given salary schedule must be at least a Tier 1 union member. No 100% membership, no contract and salary negotiations.

Some districts might not be able to get 100% membership. They could then contract to bring the union in for salary negotiations. Still other district employees might decide to do without unions entirely. Maybe they’ll figure out another means of negotiating salaries. Or maybe they’ll realize that union salaries are higher than non-union salaries for a reason.

Unions should not put the cost of their contract negotiations solely on their members. They should demand compensation for the services they perform that benefit all employees. If the employees don’t pay, then no union negotiations.

At the same time, unions could stop charging so much money, accept that they can’t use all teachers’ dues as a piggy bank for their political spending, and be more focused on offering services that all members can benefit from.

Those states with laws requiring unions to represent non-members are welcome to take them to court. However, I like to think that the same conservative jurists who hate unions also think it reasonable that unions get paid if they provide a service.

I’d be shocked, although pleased, if unions took this approach–with adjustments, of course, because I have no idea how much unions costs in other parts of the country, much less all of their many activities.  If they don’t, though, I’m ending my membership entirely. I’ve always refused to do the paperwork for agency fees–too much work for too little money. But I’ve paid nine years of union dues that went to political goals I not only don’t share but actively opposed. That’s enough to cover my next six years to retirement.

 

 


What Teachers are Worth

I enjoy reading both Jason Richwine, who I’ve defended before, and Andrew Biggs, who I follow on Twitter. But they don’t strike me as persuasive when discussing teacher salaries, which they do often, most recently No, Teachers Aren’t Underpaid , and also the first time they came to my attention, having written Public School Teachers Aren’t Underpaid (do you sense a trend?).

I made an extensive comment one time on Richwine’s blog that I’m still quite fond of, so I’ll try not to repeat myself. Before I begin, let me point out for the umpteenth time that I like my salary just fine.

I differ with Richwine/Biggs as follows:

  • They keep going on about teacher GPAs and SAT scores as indicators without mentioning credential tests. They’ve been doing this for six (nay, seven!) years. Credential tests are kind of a thing of mine, as you may have noticed, so I’ll just refer you to my previous work. But it’s simply untrue that teacher standards are low, particularly in high school. Grades and SAT scores are irrelevant. Passing scores aren’t amenable to affirmative action.
  • They sugggest (sigh) differential pay for math teachers, special ed teachers, and “language teachers”. (Surely there’s no shortage of Spanish speakers nationwide?) Left unmentioned:  the thus far anemic evidence for other pay reforms, which are significant only occasionally, and only statistically.
  • They point out–actually, this is a Richwine thing–that teachers who leave the field usually end up with lower pay. But they never seem to mull what that means.
  • They point out that teachers get lucrative pensions and benefits. That’s the Biggs thing. They accuse the public and teachers of failing to understand the severity of the pension crisis. Naturally, if the public understood how bad things were, the public would instantly put itself on an austerity program, just as it’s done with the federal deficit. Oh. Wait.

At least they didn’t bring up the old chestnut, merit pay.

Like I said, I’m generally fans of both scholars. But the past two years have seen a complete earthquake in the education reform movement, so why is everyone still pushing the same old ideas that were roundly rejected?

Wages are not determined by years of schooling but by the supply and demand for skills. These skills vary by field of study.

The first, sure. The second? If Christina Comerford left the chef’s life to be a secretary, a reasonable job for a woman with a few years of college and no degree, she’d take a big paycut. So is the  Executive Chef overpaid at a hundred grand a year?

But Ed, she’s a chef! An artist!

Sure. An artist who acquired skills outside any academic field of study.

Wages are not purely determined by field of study. Librarians require much more education than teachers for far less pay. College teaching adjuncts work like dogs for peanuts after graduating from a selective PhD program. And raise your hand if you think archaeologists would get higher pay if they had a union and a pay scale.

To quote myself twice:

Teaching, like math, isn’t aspirin. It’s not medicine. It’s not a cure. It is an art enhanced by skills appropriate to the situation and medium, that will achieve all outcomes including success and failure based on complex interactions between the teachers and their audience.

Segue to

And like any art, teaching is not a profession that yields to market justice. Van Gogh died penniless. Bruces Dern and Davison are better actors than Chrisses Hemsworth and Evans, although their paychecks would never know it. …Unlike art and acting, teaching is a government job. So while actors will get paid lots of money to pretend to be teachers, the job itself will never lead to the upside achieved by the private sector, despite the many stories about famous Korean tutors. On the other hand, practicing our craft won’t usually lead to poverty, except perhaps in North Carolina.

Don’t think of this as a plea for respect. I’m untroubled by their contempt. I just thought I’d explain why their arguments keep failing.

Besides, they mention wages are determined by supply and demand without mentioning that teachers supply’s kind of a problem at the moment, as most school districts are neverendingly short of teachers.

Despite what reformers constantly bewail as teaching’s low standards and excessive pay, all sorts of college graduates who, on paper, have “fields of study” that would allow them to teach, don’t teach. They’d rather work as, well, bus drivers. Or horribly paid college adjuncts. From 2009-2013, 45% of college graduates worked in non-college jobs, at the same time ed school enrollment plummeted.  Notice that those who pishtosh the shortage aren’t the folks trying to fill the jobs.

No blaming unions, either. West Virginia’s unions are basically social clubs. The teachers aren’t even allowed to strike.  (With teacher’s unions suing Trump over DACA and wasting my fees in various pointless efforts, I’ll cry less about Janus.) Kentucky’s Matt Bevin got whomped and was forced to apologize for insulting teachers in yet another state with weak unions. Is it likely that Colorado’s school districts will fire striking teachers when  ed schools face declining enrollment and thousands of jobs  go unfilled each year?

I’m not gloating. I don’t know where this ends. I understand pensions are a problem. But federal policy and court decisions, to say nothing of political realities, have put tremendous pressure on teacher supply. Perhaps Biggs and Richwine should consider attacking teacher pay from the demand side for a while. Richwine, at least, should find that appealing.

Under 1000!