Why unions matter: An essay

Sunday, March 20, 2011 at 10:05pm
UnionsMain.jpg
Joon Powell for The City Paper 

Here’s the thing: I believe in unions. I’m not supposed to say that for a number of good reasons. But I think I might be over that now, being free to say the following. 

The anti-union legislation now making its way toward passage in our state legislature is not only mean-spirited and unnecessary, but it’s the worst kind of shallow, cynical politics that this shallow, cynical country can produce. 

Many of you disagree, but it’s quite clear to me that unions in general, and teachers’ unions in particular, are merely a convenient and nearly defenseless scapegoat for a group of politicians that is amoral. This is a group with the power to make decisions that can adversely affect the lives of millions of people, yet it considers more how those decisions affect its own members — or rather its members’ re-election campaigns — to either maintain or increase their power and its attendants. 

That is politics, yes. But it’s also a decent clinical description of a sociopath. 

I do not for one second believe that Republicans in the state legislature believe their rhetoric about teachers’ unions. In saying that I’m being generous to them, because if they did believe it, they’d be as gullible and incapable of critical thinking as they present themselves to be. Consider that for a second now, and then again after you finish reading how virtually every bit of factual information in this “debate” over unions has been distorted by officeholders currently waging a political war. 

I’m a reporter. I can’t even say any of the above aloud under normal circumstances, let alone write it for publication, but there it is. I’d offer my letter of resignation, but I’m a freelancer, and I can’t resign from my non-job. 

I’m also from Michigan, and that means I grew up believing that the labor movement is either directly or indirectly responsible for many good things, not just greed, graft, corruption, political manipulation, and the widescale theft of billions from public treasuries. Among them: the 40-hour work week; workplace safety regulations; whistleblower protection; some measure of dignity for people who work for a living; and more or less creating the American middle class. But then again, I was brainwashed. I’m sure if I were from Tennessee, I would know that Davy Crockett did most of that. 

The last and best reason for me to believe in unions is that my wife, Jenny, who is by far the breadwinner in our home — somehow managing to outshine the $7,159 I pulled in last year by a factor of, let’s say, a lot — is herself a Metro Nashville Public Schools teacher, and thus, the current target of choice for the state GOP’s campaign of folksy divisiveness and arbitrary, albeit maybe focus-grouped, derision. (Or at least she’s one of a select few that includes women, non-Christians — especially Muslims and to a slightly lesser degree seculars — poor people, sick people, children unless they’re not born yet, the whole LGBT spectrum, all immigrants except the ones from business-y countries, and anyone uncomfortable with the idea of being armed all of the time. I think that covers the big ones.) 

Jenny is also the Metro Nashville Education Association’s union rep for Cameron Middle School. She’s why I recuse myself from labor-issue stories, or for that matter school-issue stories, almost every time I’m asked. Strangely, then, she’s the reason I’m writing about them now. 

State Rep. Debra Maggart introduced HB 130/SB 113 — which will abolish teacher unions’ collective bargaining rights, rendering the Tennessee Education Association and its locals like the MNEA essentially useless — at the beginning of this session. Soon after, the legislature began considering bills that would remove TEA representation on the pension board, make it illegal for public employee unions to collect payroll dues, and ban union contributions to political candidates — even though there’s been little talk of bans for similar member-advocacy organizations like, say, chambers of commerce. And let us not forget Rep. Glen Casada’s bill that would allow for unlimited corporate donations to Tennessee political campaigns. 

A loss of bargaining rights will leave Jenny with nothing between her and lower wages, a reasonable pension and health care contribution, and undoubtedly, wide-scale layoffs at some point.Nothing, that is, save some good luck that a bad budget year and some uninformed political whim won’t conspire against her again. 

A couple weeks ago, right around when Gov. Bill Haslam’s tenure reform plan passed the Senate — despite the fact that the entire idea depends upon new tenure-making criteria that have yet to be announced, meaning we don’t even have a plan for making it work well — Jenny came home from work, ate dinner and opened a bottle of beer. 

“You have no idea what it’s like to get in the car, every day, to and from work, and listen to people in the news trashing your profession,” Jenny said. 

Then she broke down. It was maybe 8:30 p.m., less than an hour after she’d gotten home from a day that had begun before 7 a.m. 

Jenny had been, for a few days at least, on a sort of high from the March 5 TEA rally at the Capitol, which brought thousands of teachers from around the state and country. Now it looked as though it would be little more than a morale-booster for those members, who’d understandably grown frustrated. Jenny already makes less than half of what some of her college classmates earn. Even if she sticks around for 20 years, that disparity would remain. 

And by law, her union can’t even go on strike. 

But the underlying theme of her breakdown wasn’t really a fear of losing collective bargaining. It was more that she thought she was doing a good thing becoming a teacher, and she thought other people generally agreed. She loves her job, of course, but it can be very difficult. There are 60-, 70-hour weeks with no overtime pay. She spends all of her alleged free time at work sitting in pointless but mandatory meetings or talking to parents on the phone or helping her kids with one thing or another, which is why most days she sprints to the bathroom when she comes home from work — during the school day, she’s not afforded the minute or two it takes to go to the bathroom. 

Then, night after night, she sits at our dinner table, sometimes for hours, doing even more work. Counting that, she makes about $10 per hour by my calculations. Not counting it, a whopping $13, which wouldn’t be too bad if not for the aforementioned college degree. 

For all of that, Jenny gets to listen to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey call her mediocre. 

Jenny’s very basic problem, as I took it, was that she stopped believing that people were grateful to teachers, and beyond that were mindful of their interests, or at the very least weren’t particularly interested in demoralizing and terrorizing them more than what’s normal. That isn’t saying that she didn’t know, intellectually, that there were a lot of anti-teacher politicians, even a lot of moral human beings who must have been the ones who voted for them. 

But something shifted that night, and on a gut level she got that she was the momentary It, the thing that would be railroaded and marginalized for the sake of some ultimately low-rent gain, another bad deal made by our state government. In this case, it was easier school board negotiations — for the school boards — and another few years of guaranteed travel per diems and black-tie fundraising dinners for the most vitriolic members of the legislature. More importantly, though, she got that a lot of humans were buying into this, and so now there wasn’t much anyone could do. 

That all caused a kind of existential crisis chain reaction in the house that ended with me and my work. So when I got an opportunity to abandon some rather prudent rules I’d set up for myself based on years of journalistic obedience, I didn’t hesitate. 

 

Phony popular myths about unions, in particular teachers’ unions, are driving a lot of this furor. Particularly glaring among these are the frequent and bewildering accusations of teacher greed. In a few short years, it seems we’ve gone from making sad jokes about how little money teachers make to suddenly accusing them of making too much. I’ve seen people throw around figures like $60,000 or $80,000 a year. It’s odd — and it’s largely false, at least in this state. 

Take a look at the Metro Nashville Public Schools pay schedule. MNPS teachers, college graduates all, start at about $34,000 a year. That’s not so monumental a piece of news as their salary caps, which are $66,000 — a salary about on par with the current U.S. median family income — only after 25 years of experience and a doctorate. Name another career that requires a Ph.D. and 25 years’ experience for that amount of money. I’ll start: Poet. That’s all I can think of. 

To compare, according to a February analysis by The New York Times, the average salary of a Tennessee private sector worker with a college degree is $55,000. Since, according to U.S. Census data, less than 8 percent of the population over 25 years old in Tennessee has attained more than a bachelor’s degree, that figure can be read as a measure of B.A. and B.S. degree income. In Memphis City schools, it takes 15 years for a teacher with a bachelor’s to earn that much. In Nashville, the top salary for teachers with a bachelor’s degree is $51,370. 

Then, of course, there are pensions — subject of much false accusation by those on the political right. 

First, there is what teachers actually receive in yearly pension payments. Luckily the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System has a pension calculator on its website. So I pretended that I was 65 years old, a 30-year veteran teacher whose salary maxed out at $50,000 (this more or less represents the average teacher retiree, according to TCRS financial reports). Unlike my employing government, for which contributions fluctuate depending on need, I’ve been paying my legally required share of 5 percent gross income — $2,500 average in my highest paid years — regardless of whether TCRS has had a good or bad year. This entitles me to $1,968 per month, or $23,616 per year — not a lot considering how little I’ve likely been able to save on my salary. 

Governments, on the other hand, were paying less than 4 percent of their total covered payroll for teacher retirements until 2005, when it increased to 5.5 percent. It’s up to 6.42 percent now, still less than half of government contributions for state employee and higher education pensions, both more than 13 percent. 

Political rhetoric would also lead you to believe that the state pension fund — the TCRS, which manages pensions for nearly all public school teachers in the state — is bankrupting us. But the numbers don’t bear that out. 

TCRS is among the highest-performing pension funds in the country. According to its annual financial statement, TCRS outperformed 83 percent of similar funds nationwide last year, netting a return of more than 10 percent. This followed two straight years of multibillion-dollar losses, but even that kind of helps my point: Our consistently well-rated pension fund, which is an investment instrument, took some losses on the market. While those losses, and consequently the higher contributions, are unfortunate, it’s an expense that the state has committed itself to, and the state has an obligation to it. I doubt that our fiscally responsible GOP leadership can argue with that sentiment. 

The state’s pension contributions have increased from $200 million in 2001 to upwards of $600 million in 2008, before decreasing somewhat in 2009 and 2010, to $578 million. Adding $258 million in local government contributions to that, the total was $836 million from governments versus $250 million from member contributions. 

But take a closer look. The state contribution refers to total public dollars going into funding the State Employees, Teachers, and Higher Education Employees Pension Plan, which manages the plan for employees of the state itself, public colleges and universities, and nearly every public school teacher with a pension plan statewide. That funding doesn’t all originate from state tax dollars. For teacher pensions, the state-managed money comes from the local school districts that employ them. 

According to a Metro Comprehensive Financial report, last year MNPS spent $21,246,078 on its TCRS contribution, 3.3 percent of its overall budget. And since the MNPS budget is ultimately folded into the overall Metro government budget, this represents only 1.4 percent of the pot. 

Metro will spend more this year — $25 million — as part of an incentives package for Omni’s planned convention center hotel. Speaking of which, Metro could be on the hook for up to $40 million per year in payments on the Music City Center debt, more than $600 million in bond issues, not including interest, that use Metro property tax revenues as collateral. A feasibility study by HVS Consulting predicted that Metro’s debt payments would likely be covered by hotel tax revenue increases resulting from new convention center business. It’s probably worth noting that HVS’ analysis predicts a 127 percent increase in convention center-generated hotel room nights by 2017 and uses a rather high figure of $144.62 (2009 dollars) as its per-person hotel room night cost. 

If you divide the $578 million the state spent on pensions last year by 76,000 — the number of people currently receiving those pensions — you come out with $7,510 per state-worker pension. About half — 38,117 — of those pension recipients are retired teachers, meaning state government pays out an average of $3,755 per teacher.This isn’t even fair, though, because it fails to take into account the fact that government contributions to teacher pensions — again, at 6.42 percent last year — cost so much less than other pensions. 

Last year, the Tennessee Department of Correction paid more than $75 million to fund three prisons — Hardeman County Correctional Facility, Whiteville Correctional Facility and South Central Correctional Facility — run by Diamond Level Campaign Patron the Corrections Corporation of America. Those three prisons reported a combined population of 5,143 prisoners, at a cost of $14,700 per. 

To review: That’s $14,700 per medium-security inmate going to a (locally owned!) company that has been sued in each of the 19 states where it operates prisons, and is currently being sued for allegations that guards at its Idaho Correctional Center were running a gladiator school for inmates. But the great moral-fiscal — note that this conflation of morality and fiscality is not the author’s own — danger is the $3,755 per person that governments pay out to help keep 38,000 old teachers alive. 

These anti-teacher and anti-union bills will produce, at best, little savings for school districts and the state, but the effect on workers could be devastating. 

See, for example, last year’s decision by MNPS to privatize its custodial services, an idea floated by Superintendent Jesse Register, who did the same thing when he worked in Chattanooga. The contractor, GCA Services, let go of nearly every MNPS janitor and reduced wages for those jobs significantly, despite Register’s promises to the contrary on both counts. Also, GCA is known for having hired criminals and sex offenders into schools it contracted for in other cities, an interesting choice for MNPS given that it nearly drained its legal liability account last year losing big-ticket lawsuits. All of that for about $5 million in savings — $5 million that was added to the district’s charter school funding request this year. There are, of course, no teachers’ unions at charter schools.

Of course, every time Tennessee governments, state and local, hand public money over to private business interests, it’s framed as an innovative public-private partnership, not misspent tax dollars. Haslam certainly knows that from his time in Knoxville. 

Over the past decade, Knoxville public dollars — in the form of land acquisition, tax abatement and development zone grants (which are really intended for revitalization efforts in very poor neighborhoods) — have gone into a new home for the E.W. Scripps-owned daily newspaper the Knoxville News Sentinel, which the city claims created or retained 543 jobs. Fifty of those were eliminated a few years later, and all suffered significant cuts to benefits and salaries. 

That was in 2002, before Haslam. Not to be outdone, the former mayor’s administration smoothed out property acquisition for Scripps Networks’ new Knoxville headquarters. Then there’s his marquee project, the South Waterfront, a condo-developer free-for-all that the city has spent millions on and dedicated millions more in incentives to since it was unveiled in 2006. Nothing’s really happened yet, though, other than Knoxville being sued by one of the waterfront’s lead developers. 

 

I can also get very annoyed with unions in this state. As a group, and most especially the TEA and its locals, they can be quite timid, unwilling to participate in the public debate until the very last moment — when it’s too late, like it might already be now. They seem allergic to press relations, which when public perception is such a big problem, is quite stupid. 

I don’t think they made enough of the fact that the collective bargaining bill was drafted by the Tennessee School Boards Association, the very people with whom the union negotiates — which is, to me, a glaring conflict of interest. I don’t think they’ve made enough of the fact that this is all about political patronage: Republicans don’t get money from unions and Democrats do. Bill Ketron himself has admitted that’s what is really driving these anti-union bills. 

This should be insulting to Tennessee taxpayers and voters, who are not here to watch public officials take a pre-existing, half-formed prejudice and then attempt to legitimize the myths supporting that prejudice. It is, of course, all the better if the prejudice is against a group with limited power, like unions, which are weak in Tennessee already. 

Even better for Ramsey, Ketron and the gang might be unions with a lot of women in them. You’ll notice how much harder this national debate has been on the teachers’ unions as opposed to firefighter or police unions, for instance. It’s hard not to think that there’s an element of, “Well, it’s mostly
secondary incomes anyway. Their husbands will take care of ’em” to all of this. 

They do this and call it populism. It’s not. It’s a mob mentality masquerading as populism. 

If we are indeed capable of wisdom and perspective, we might be able to wonder whether that’s not a new thing, whether this country’s seen its kind before. And if we’re brutally honest, we might acknowledge that history rarely looks kindly on it — and that history is, at moments like this, ultimately divided into the Right and Wrong sides. 

The Wrong side has always been composed of living people who likely don’t realize, in the moment, that their actions and beliefs would one day be judged as bankrupt. At one time you could have asked some of them, ordinary mortal humans like Joe McCarthy or George Wallace, how it feels to have your life worked over like that, your ordinary mortal human actions retold over and over again as the bad guy part in a morality play for so many consecutive years. It would have to be a kind of living hell, made all the worse by the fact that it was the hell nearly everyone thought they deserved.  

98 Comments on this post:

By: pswindle on 3/21/11 at 11:16

Teachers do not get paid for the summer months. Most teachers go back to school, take summer workshops or they have to get a job to survive. See how far you could get without a summer payday. We do not go into teaching for the money, but without the unions we would not even have living wages for the months that we are in school. Every GOP lawmaker needs to spend at least a week in a classroom, especially Maggart, Ramsey and Johnson, they may learn sometning.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/21/11 at 11:20

Teachers, Firefighters, Law enforcement and the Military do not get the pay they do for the country. In a private setting they would come closer to there true worth.

The civilian contractors in Iraq are making a killing off the US taxpayers. Maybe if we paid the civilian contractors like we pay teachers, we would not have as much debt?

By: PhiDelt496 on 3/21/11 at 11:21

Minuet,

What protections do I have for my job? Doing my job to the best of my ability and being an asset to the company I work for. Why do teachers even need tenure? What other line of work in the private sector has tenure? It is human nature to get complacent in an environment where you feel safe. If I had a guarantee that I couldnt be fired for anything other than "incompetence, inefficiency, insubordination, neglect of duty or unprofessional conduct." And my pay scale was based completely on how long I didnt get fired for those things...What would be my incentive to do my job to the best of my ability?

This is why teachers dont need a union.

I do think that there needs to be some sort of appropriate metric developed to help measure teacher performance. Maybe there should be baseline standardized tests at the beginning of the year so that you measure students against themselves more than you measure them against the "average".

By: PhiDelt496 on 3/21/11 at 11:23

Also, I believe that teachers have the option to either spread their salary out accross the year or take it only during the school year. Either way, it adds up the same.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/21/11 at 11:36

By: PhiDelt496 on 3/21/11 at 12:21
Minuet,

What protections do I have for my job? Doing my job to the best of my ability and being an asset to the company I work for. Why do teachers even need tenure? What other line of work in the private sector has tenure? It is human nature to get complacent in an environment where you feel safe. If I had a guarantee that I couldnt be fired for anything other than "incompetence, inefficiency, insubordination, neglect of duty or unprofessional conduct." And my pay scale was based completely on how long I didnt get fired for those things...What would be my incentive to do my job to the best of my ability?

This is why teachers dont need a union.

*******************************************************************************************

Working for the government involves politicians, which means politics. Without the protection of unions or tenure a teacher could loss their job because Uncle Joe the city councilman got his niece/nephew the really good teachers’ job at the public school in the good part of town.

By: tv8527 on 3/21/11 at 11:36

I lost my job because of a union.The peterbilt plant in Madison was a great place to work except for the 15% of ppl that were always stirring up something to complain about.If you were a slacker you were also a good union man & they would fight tooth & nail to keep you from being fired.If you did something stupid during a strike they would make sure you got your job back ( it was negotiated in the new contract ) The company finally got an opportunity to get rid of the plant & send all of the orders to the non union plant in Denton Tx & that's what they did.A plant that had been there since 1969 & employed hundreds of ppl is now gone.I had 16 good years there,I miss the work but not the stress of dealing with all of the union crybabies .

By: PhiDelt496 on 3/21/11 at 11:44

Captain Nemo,

You dont think that politics plays a role in normal office life as well? They hire a new Director for your department and he has a guy who he likes and does the same job as you. You comment still makes no legitimate reason to defend tenure for teachers.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/21/11 at 11:54

Sorry you lost your job tv8527, but you sound like you were in management.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/21/11 at 12:00

Yes I do PhilDelt496. White collar jobs are not blue collar jobs and if there were unions in the white collar world that would not happen so easy Phil.

By: JDG on 3/21/11 at 12:04

If you divide the $578 million the state spent on pensions last year by 76,000 — the number of people currently receiving those pensions — you come out with $7,510 per state-worker pension. About half — 38,117 — of those pension recipients are retired teachers, meaning state government pays out an average of $3,755 per teacher.This isn’t even fair, though, because it fails to take into account the fact that government contributions to teacher pensions — again, at 6.42 percent last year — cost so much less than other pensions.

Ok, I'll say it. The math is wrong. you can't say the teachers only get half of the average payment, they get he same average as the other half of the recipients. you can't cut it is half because you are speaking about half the population, the average is the same for everyone.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/21/11 at 12:06

PhilDelt469-

Education is different from the office and when a new Director comes in education there are changes, but not a teacher being replaced by the New Directors pet.

By: PhiDelt496 on 3/21/11 at 12:07

Nemo

Ok, let put it a little closer to home...

The septic pumping company you work for gets bought out by someone with a nephew who wants to drive a truck. You have your sense of entitlement that you havent gotten fired for a year and wont be now, so you get there when you get there, you leave at 5:00 because you dont like working over time. The other truck is driven by a guy who shows up 15 mins early, works until the job gets done and never whines complains or says he is getting screwed because the boss doesnt pay him enough.

Which guy gets "laid off"?

By: minuet on 3/21/11 at 12:08

"Doing my job to the best of my ability and being an asset to the company I work for. Why do teachers even need tenure?"

What Captain Nemo said. Unless you actually work for a govenment agency, you aren't subject to the same kind of risk. Teachers are in the unique position of working directly for a group of politicians...the local board of education, which is comprised entirely of elected officials, who, BTW, are not required by law to have one iota of educational experience, either as a teacher or a school administrator. .

BTW, if you wanted the protections of a union or tenure, you could always organize your work place.

By: minuet on 3/21/11 at 12:16

The difference is that the septic company isn't government, and the employee is an at will employee. This is a fact he knows, or should know, when he accepts the job. There are higher expectations of the government than of private business. The self-interest and corruption of private business is considered far worse when exhibited by government, which is why we have constitutions at the state and federal level and due process protections in the law.

By: PhiDelt496 on 3/21/11 at 12:16

Here is the problem Munuet,

I am one of the people who actually take pride in my job and work hard at what I do. I dont want to organize my workplace because then the guy who sits next to me and doesnt take pride in his work or work hard would then get the same rewards that I do when it comes evaluation time.

This is where the bleeding hearts get it wrong, I would like that protection, but I dont want to give up what I would have to give up to get it. Therefore, I make the choice to stay non-union.

By: PhiDelt496 on 3/21/11 at 12:21

Do you even know what "due process" is?

"Due Process" protects ME from an overreaching government.

So public school teachers are held to a higher standard than private school teachers? If that is the case then we need to check Nashville public school test scores against Nashville private school test scores.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/21/11 at 12:25

By: PhiDelt496 on 3/21/11 at 1:07
Nemo

Ok, let put it a little closer to home...

The septic pumping company you work for gets bought out by someone with a nephew who wants to drive a truck.
*******************************************************************************************
I am not trying to be smart here, but it seems as if you changed the situation from a new owner to a good worker and a bad worker.
*******************************************************************************************

You have your sense of entitlement that you havent gotten fired for a year and wont be now, so you get there when you get there, you leave at 5:00 because you dont like working over time. The other truck is driven by a guy who shows up 15 mins early, works until the job gets done and never whines complains or says he is getting screwed because the boss doesnt pay him enough.

Which guy gets "laid off"?

By: Captain Nemo on 3/21/11 at 12:26

To answer your question Phil, in a perfect world the man that comes in 15 min early and never complains keeps the job.

In the real world more than often the guy that complains and never works overtime is the one that stays. This has happen to me before. In a Union this would not take place so easily.

I had a union job once, but it was a company union. I did not like it, but it did not turn me off to unions. Just like some obnoxious people turn me off to other people.

By: citizen999 on 3/21/11 at 12:29

I think unions make more sense when they are bargaining fpr a bigger piece of a corporate pie. Govt workers are bargaining for a bigger piece of the taxpayer's pie. I believe if one desires to work for us taxpayers, he should recognize there won't be any profits to be shared among the workers. Negotiating to take more from your fellow citizens is socialism - pure and simple.

By: BigPapa on 3/21/11 at 12:36

Those reasons for tenure are laughable. Welcome to how everyone else in the world operates. You make the Principals more accountable for the school, any principal that just hires his friends and cronies wouldnt be in the position to do so long. Do your job, make yourself an assest and you will not be fired.
Most teachers live in this fantasy world because most have done nothing other than go to school, go to college, then return to school. They have zero real life experience.

By: PhiDelt496 on 3/21/11 at 12:37

First off, I reread that post and am sorry if I made it sound like you work for a septic pumping company. That wasnt my intention I was just using an example.

The point was that you fight the politics wherever you are and it isnt an argument for teacher tenure. Also, the point of the story is that if there were a union involved it doesnt matter who works harder, it is only who has been there longer.

The real world is full of BS that happens to good people. I not only try to do a good job for my current employer, but I do a good job so that I a good reputation in the market so that when something bad happens, it makes it easier for me to find another job.

Everyone has the right to join a union if they please, but they must bear the consequenses of trying to start one (most places you will be immediately fired). I simply dont think that they belong in the public sector since we are FORCED to pay their salaries through our taxes, I want to know that I am paying to have the best teachers out there being rewarded for their efforts (not necessarily their time).

By: Captain Nemo on 3/21/11 at 12:41

Phil-

Which private school and are we including Montessori Schools.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/21/11 at 12:46

When I here Pure and Simple in the same sentence I wonder if they have really look at a subject from all angles.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/21/11 at 12:47

Phil-

I never thought you did so no insult even if you had. It is honest work, but do not have the nose or willingness to do. lol

By: PhiDelt496 on 3/21/11 at 12:49

All of them. I dont know what the numbers show, but would be interested to find out. Even better, lets look at the college graduation percentages from the two different systems. The job of a teacher is primarily to prepare children for life, and a good measure of success in life would be requirement for government assistance later in life. So lets see if private school or public school produces more people dependant on the government assistance.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/21/11 at 12:52

Phil-

I do a good job for the people I work for and like what I do. But if I would let them, they would work me 24/7.

However sense I am an independent contractor, I make my on schedule. Wish I had found this job when I was younger.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/21/11 at 1:05

Phil-

My youngest went to a Montessori School and then to a Catholic later, but we are not Catholic. The reason was that Metro schools were bogged down with budget cuts and the teachers to student ratio were far too great for any child to have a good education.

The Montessori system let her learn at her speed, while the Catholic system gave her a different look on life. My wife and I thought that public school would not be challenging enough and would suck the life from her.

Public school is that way, But Not Because Of Unions or the Teacher. It is caused by the lack of funding and tax cuts.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/21/11 at 1:08

I enjoyed the debate with you PhilDelt, but now I got to go to work. Have a good rest of the day.

By: yogiman on 3/21/11 at 1:30

Sadly, in the work force of today you have many corporations and companies who do not hire full time employees except needed specialists. Strictly part timer workers or temporary employees. In that manner they don't have to put out any more money for insurance or retirement programs.

Work a short time, be laid off for a couple of weeks and be rehired like you are just beginning again.

By: brrrrk on 3/21/11 at 2:12

Gee, why am I not surprised by this.....

US Chamber’s Lobbyists Solicited Hackers To Sabotage Unions, Smear Chamber’s Political Opponents

http://thinkprogress.org/2011/02/10/lobbyists-chamberleaks/

By: PhiDelt496 on 3/21/11 at 2:29

brrrrk,

If corporations are so evil, then quit your job, dont invest in banks bury your money in your backyard while the "fed" keeps printing money and inflation soars past 10%.

That link is hilarious. Is that from the Onion or something?

By: Community-carl-... on 3/21/11 at 2:37

Well, I am back from working for a living earlier today. After reading all the blogs since this morning, I stand by my earlier opinion:

Most people, unions, corporations and politicos are too greedy, unyielding, and self-serving to leave this country a better place for future generations. My heart aches for my children and grandchildren, because they are going to inherit a big mess.
Most likely, , this country is facing eminent financial (and moral) failure and collapse. Things simply cannot continue as they are. Our line of credit is finite.

Now we are allowing ourselves to be dragged into a 3rd war. How dare we clean somebody else's house when our own is a wreck.......no wonder the rest of the world views us as an arrogant society. We desperately need to mind our own business.

....See you in the soup line.

By: minuet on 3/21/11 at 2:41

"You make the Principals more accountable for the school, any principal that just hires his friends and cronies wouldnt be in the position to do so long."

I could say your response is laughable, but that would be rude. You obviously haven't spent much time in a rural school system in Tennessee. Teachers are like cops and firemen...they run in families. We have some county systems that couldn't staff their schools, if it weren't for cronyism and nepotism. That isn't necessarily a good or bad thing, but it is a reality.

And one of the things that tenure does is prevent a competent teacher from being booted out her position when the principal, or more likely, the district board member, has a niece or nephew who needs a job.

""Due Process" protects ME from an overreaching government. "

Sure it does. Just like it protects public school teachers who are citizens and who also need to be protected from an overreaching government. In fact, they're in an even more vulnerable place than you are, because overreaching by the government could deprive them of their property i.e., their employment contract and pension.

"So public school teachers are held to a higher standard than private school teachers?"

I don't know. "Private school" covers a lot of ground, and private schools generally aren't subject to the same pulbic scrutiny that public schools are subject to. Plus, private schools can pick and choose their students according to academic ability, lack of behavioral problems, lack of learning disabilities, active involvement of the parents, wealth and education of the parents. Public schools cannot.

By: brrrrk on 3/21/11 at 2:55

minuet said

"I don't know. 'Private school' covers a lot of ground, and private schools generally aren't subject to the same pulbic scrutiny that public schools are subject to. Plus, private schools can pick and choose their students according to academic ability, lack of behavioral problems, lack of learning disabilities, active involvement of the parents, wealth and education of the parents. Public schools cannot."

Private schools (and their teachers) are also subject to the beck and call of their biggest donor. If little Johnnies dad just laid down enough moolah to build a new gym, well you can bet little Johnny will get some pretty deferential treatment..... or else!!

By: PhiDelt496 on 3/21/11 at 3:00

That is why most employees favor the 401k plans. It is my money, i can take it with me. Why dont teachers want this??? I dont know why the teachers feel like they are so much more privlidged than anyone else in the world. And due process does not protect teachers from being fired! I am not saying that they arent protected, but Due Process is not what protects them.

Public schools use magnet schools to protect the academically successful students from the bad environment at regular public schools. So by that argument, how do the test scores from say Father Ryan or David Lipscomb compare to MLK or Hume Fogg? I dont know the answer to these, but I think that it would be interesting to see.

By: brrrrk on 3/21/11 at 3:07

PhiDelt496 said

"Public schools use magnet schools to protect the academically successful students from the bad environment at regular public schools. So by that argument, how do the test scores from say Father Ryan or David Lipscomb compare to MLK or Hume Fogg? I dont know the answer to these, but I think that it would be interesting to see."

I see.......

By: brrrrk on 3/21/11 at 3:20

Somehow I get the impression that Phi doesn't exactly get his/her hands dirty for a living. They're the people who need unions.

As for Phi's last statements... well I'm reminded of the group of Navajos who served in the United States Marine Corps whose primary job was the transmission of secret tactical messages, they were called Code Talkers. I understand full well Phi's "Code"....

By: minuet on 3/21/11 at 3:29

"And due process does not protect teachers from being fired! I am not saying that they arent protected, but Due Process is not what protects them."

Actually, due process is exactly what protects a teacher from being fired, if the employer cannot back up the allegations made against the teacher. That's the whole point of having due process, to prevent unfair adverse actions from being taken by government against individuals.

Too many people throw the term "due process" around without having any idea what it means. What it means, in a nutshell, is this...adverse governmental action, such as taking property in the form of an employment contract, cannot occur without giving the individual affected by the taking the *process* she is *due* by law. In Tennessee, the due process procedure for tenured teachers is defined in the tenure law.

So, for example, a director of schools accuses a tenured teacher of being incompetent. He provides her with a written charge which has been approved by her employing board of education. She has 30 days to request a hearing before an impartial hearing officer. (At the director's discretion, she can be suspended without pay throughout the entire process.) Both the employer and the teacher present evidence at this hearing, and the impartial hearing officer makes a decision as to whether or not the employer has proven that the teacher is incompetent. If so, the teacher is fired. If not, the teacher is reinstated.

The notice of charges, the opportunity for a hearing, the requirement of having an impartial hearing officer...those are all elements of the due process procedure that is provided to public school teachers by law.

By: Nitzche on 3/21/11 at 5:04

Barry, Barry!!

By: Moonglow1 on 3/21/11 at 10:17

Moonglow1The Bottom Line: Education in the United States is non-existent. It is the year 2015 and only those families with an income greater than 250K can afford to pay for their children's education. Charter schools will not exist because there will be limited tax dollars to pay for them. This is because most jobs are outsourced because corporations are global. New laws will be enacted to "exempt" the poor children from school. Thus 90% of kids will be home schooled. These children will be religious fanatics like the taliban & will vote Tea Party Republican. Adults will be forced to work 60 hours per week at menial jobs because all union rights will be repealed. This is the vision the Koch brothers & Republicans have for America. And oh by the way, plan on your kids going to war because the draft will be reinstated for the poor of course.

By: PhiDelt496 on 3/22/11 at 5:56

Minuet,

I see your context of due process and concede that point. You are right, that is due process and you defined it nicely.

Brrrk,

Actually I am in the Communications field and if I worked for the Phone Company or a Large Manufacturer, my position would definitely be a craft union position. Also, why does it matter if someone gets their hands dirty or not? Crawling in ceilings and under floors, i do get my hands dirty.

I am going to bring the topic back to the essay above. The teachers in TN have been unionized for over 30 years. And the writer presents all kinds of examples of how teachers get screwed in Tennessee. A previous poster pointed out sufficiently the problems with the math, so i wont cover it again. If the teachers have gripes and issues with their compensation, then they need to be screaming at the TEA and the locals. The fact that they are publicly griping about this probably means that the union has failed to do its job. If the union were "protecting" the teachers, why are the teachers so unhappy. I know that lawmakers pass the laws that affect the teachers, and that so many of you like to voice your disgust at lobbyists, but answer this question. If the teachers are employees of the government, and all decisions regarding compensation are made by government officials, and TEA (or local affiliate)'s job is to "protect" the teachers interests, what do you call someone who convinces lawmakers to pass laws favoring the special interests that they represent? Lobbyist!!! So you are fighting tooth and nail to protect lobbyists and the work of lobbying. Now, I would fire any lobbying group that allowed these laws to jeopardize my interests. But the union is pretty quiet right now. And the teachers are pretty quiet too. I guess it is because the ones who actually live under the union's influence realize that they could easily live without it. They also realize that these bills are not anti-teacher, they are anti-union. And good teachers are also tired of the "status quo" in education. Maybe they see this change as a breath of fresh air and feel better about someone finally trying something new to help education in this state. Plus they dont have to see those union dues taken out of their already too small paychecks. So essentially killing the union will give every teacher in Nashville a raise immediately.

Now another example here to answer the previous post about government being held under more scrutiny. If I owned a company that was bidding an a major government contract, and a key decision maker in the awarding of that contract is up for election. I make a substantial donation to his campaign, and get my contract. If this got out, the city paper would write three articles a day screaming of corruption and backdoor dealings. And they would be right. But that is the same thing that the TEA does every election. They give money to the campaigns of the same government officials that they will be negotiating with and that is corruption.

I want to say that I know several teachers in many different systems. They are all underpaid for what they do. I believe that if the market offers higher salary potential for a field then it will draw more qualified candidates to that field. If you don't believe me, look at the tech explosion of the mid 1990's. It isn't fair, but life inst fair either, and they were underpaid before the union, with the union, and probably will be after the union.

By: Moonglow1 on 3/22/11 at 9:09

Moonglow1: to the post above "the market offers a higher salary potential". Really? In what reality do you exist?? Don't you realize that real income for the middle class has steadily decreased since Reagan & that manufacturing jobs in the USA are nearly extinct and 90% of the wealth is held by 400 billionaires. By the way, since the middle class cannot afford to attend college where will those qualified teachers come from. Perhaps from China.

By: PhiDelt496 on 3/22/11 at 9:21

I said "if the market offers higher salary potential"

Also, the middle class has shot itself with personal debt. That is why they cannot afford to attend college. Plus with the Lottery, if you make the grades, your college is paid for. And it is impossible in TN to live more than an hour away from a state school with an education program so dont make the living costs arguement. The constitution nowhere guarantees the right to education, much less a college education. And you want to talk about the biggest tax paid by the poor and underprivilidged, how about the lottery. Rich people dont buy lottery tickets!

By: minuet on 3/23/11 at 7:19

"The constitution nowhere guarantees the right to education...."

From the Tennessee Constitution:

§ 12. Education; public schools; higher education

The State of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools. The General Assembly may establish and support such postsecondary educational institutions, including public institutions of higher learning, as it determines. (emphasis mine)

By: justice2003 on 3/24/11 at 7:31

Did you know that? As long as you have Judges helping people get fake linceses it dosn't matter !

By: RMajor on 3/24/11 at 11:07

RMajor
How many of you remember your teachers names? I do. I remember my childrens teachers names. Our states Teachers provide one of the most valuable services provided and they are severly underpaid. They are not all blessed with small classrooms, motivated students with supportive parents who make sure their homework is done and show up for parent teacher conferences. They are ask to be educators, counselors, disciplinarians, motivators, subsidize their classrooms, show up early, stay late, parent, coach............ and be judged by someone elses test scores. Their workplace is your childs learnong environment. I support the Teachers and their right to have a voice in that environment and collectively bargain.
Honestly this is not about teachers salaries. This about Power and Politics. There is a plethora of bills prooposed in the House and Senate designed to take rights away from
teachers. The supporters of these bills just believe that with a Republican majority in the House, Senate and the Governorship now is the time to strike. Well, the good ole boys better make this strike count because the Teachers and all organized workers will fight back like never before.

By: parnell3rd on 3/25/11 at 8:58

#1 If the unions are so great in Michagan how come you moved here, Mr. Maldondo?
#2 As a freelance writer making less than $8k a year you should be grateful to be married to a breadwinner. Otherwise you'd have to get a real job, increase your work load, or live off the gov't.
#3 The UAW in Tennessee just recieved special unemployment funds from the Federal Gov't. Is that fair to the rest of unemployed Tennesseans.
#4 Where was the Union Leadership when Pres. Clinton signed NAFTA into law? They sure were not helping out their union dues paying members were they?

By: SHIFT on 4/3/11 at 9:45

Wow! After reading through these comments, I can see why this anti-union legislation is moving forward without much resistance. I promise, union/teacher haters, we are not benefitting so greatly from the TEA that you need to be jealous. School boards have found their way around everything the "Association" (we are not allowed to call it a "union") has set in place anyway...as far as working conditions go, that is. However, without the Association, conditions would definitely be worse.
Here's what the Association does for me, as a teacher:
-30 minute duty free lunch (which I rarely get to have b/c of my commitment to the 150 students I see each day and trying to accommodate for the 150 different needs, tribulations and personalities that need attending to.)
-Equivalent to one planning period per day (I can't laugh enough at this. There is always some emergency that requires my presence elsewhere, like wrestling with a copy machine, breaking up a fight, covering another teacher's class or standing in the rain awaiting clearance from a false fire alarm, instead of fastidiously preparing for lessons.)
- Provide a TEA lawyer if I were ever to be accused of anything that gives teacher's a bad name. (good to know, I guess)
-Occasionally bargains for minuscule pay increases (not always successful, and seriously, we are talking $50 a month over the 10 month pay period. One month, I bought myself a whole pair of shoes. Again, try to control your jealousy.)
Yeahhhh...that about sums it up. And all of this for only $485 a year!
BUT, without this seemingly useless Association, I might as well be chained to my desk (with no chair, because we are not allowed to be caught sitting at our desk, despite the 4 hours worth of paperwork & grading that is required to be magically done within my non-existent 40 minute daily planning period). Without the association, I am nothing more than a scapegoat baby-sitter stripped of all reasonable tools to do my job. Which, by the sounds of it, is what these incredibly misguided people want.
Before I hear one more frickin' word about how "WE" don't do our jobs...take this into consideration: On what level do you prioritize education for your child? In countries where education is highly regarded by the parents/parental units, scores are higher.
So what is going on here? Especially in TN? Have you considered any of those silly little mitigating circumstances? Have you checked the statistics of transiency? Non-English speaking students? Students below poverty level? Students being abused at home? How do these factors contribute to learning math or grammar? Why would you have ever thought to consider these things? You are not on the front lines of our current societal status, right? Walk a mile, people. I invite you. Get off your computers in the middle of the day (hope your not at work) and get some of that "real world" experience ‘some people’ ignorantly claim we teachers lack.
Charles Maldonado is right. It IS mob mentality. Where are our independent thinkers? Where are our reasonable thinkers who possess the power of perspective?
The bigger, more far reaching question you should be asking yourself is what this all means to the teaching profession. This isn't going to force people (yes, I said PEOPLE, not robots) to become better teachers. It is going to force PEOPLE out of the profession and repel new candidates from even touching this impossible line of work.
Then what have you created?
A teacher-less society?
Kids can just take some on-line courses and get educated that way?
Good call. One size fits all, right?
That will make for a better America! We can all just rot in our own stupidity, and it won't cost you a dime!
Is that what you want your legacy to be?
THINK, folks! Long term...think it out and draw your OWN conclusions!
The ramifications of this unruly domino effect will be the downfall of us all, ultimately.
But that's just my opinion...you know...as someone who gets to experience a lazy, privileged teacher's life first hand.