Spotlight on District 109

Labor unions are under fire all over this country. Recent events have shown that they are needed now more than ever.

Ah, labor unions.  As a former airline employee I’ve witnessed the best and the worst of relationships between management and workers.  Sometimes they pull together like a family and sometimes the relations are as dysfunctional as, well, a family.  Union workers as a percentage of all workers hit its peak in the 50s when 25% of all employees were unionized.  Now that number is somewhere around 10%.  There are various reasons for this not the least of which are fairer labor laws.  Some smart companies have bought into the reality that happy workers mean productive workers which lead to higher profits.  Others continue to squeeze their employees as much as they can, and drop those concessions directly to the bottom line.

Teachers unions have been around for a long time and, by the looks of it, aren’t going anywhere any time soon.  In places such as Wisconsin and our very own Chicago, collectively bargained rights are being taken away with the stroke of a pen.  State and local entities are broke, and they figure the easiest way to save some money is to cut salary, benefits, and pensions of their unionized workers.  They are obviously not concerned how that will affect the health and welfare of their employees.

Now we have no such drama in our little corner of the world, but we did have a contentious negotiation here in district 109.  The results of that negotiation are yet to be announced, but rest assured I will have all the details right here for you.  We also had a recent salary agreement in our own school district 113, a non-unionized district.  The district has reported that teacher raises were set at 0% and 0.85% over the next two years.  The Superintendent reported that the agreement was “fair to employees and fiscally responsible.”  Yes, of course it was.  I’m all for a great relationship between workers and management but if there was ever a case to be made for labor unions, there it is.

Typically, when management asks the union for concessions, the first question back from the union is “what concessions are you going to make?”  Airlines cut routes and staff.  Manufacturing firms get more efficient.  Lee Iaccoca famously reduced his salary to $1 when he was rebuilding Chrysler.  He said “I didn’t take $1 a year to be a martyr.  I took it so that when I went to Doug Fraser, the union president, I could look him in the eye and say ‘Here’s what I want from you guys as your share,’ and he couldn’t come back to me and ask: ‘You SOB, what sacrifice have YOU made?’”

So my only question to these school boards who have demanded teacher concessions is this:

What sacrifices have YOU made?

If they have limited raises and cut benefits, pensions, and discretionary expenses for administrators in the same manner as they have for teachers then they can look the teachers in the eye and move forward as a strong district.  If not, they can look forward to many more years of distrust and disgruntled employees.  The choice is entirely up to them.

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Tony Horwitz May 13, 2012 at 05:50 PM
John, thanks for the reporting, but I believe you give the wrong impressioin in your apparent thinking that the teacher raises in d113 are somehow a bad thing for the teachers and that union representation would have resulted in a better deal. This is an example of a cooperative, solution based agreement, rather than the ususal position based negotiations which are often contentious, and lend themselves to 11th hour bargaining and hard feelings. This agreement was good for everyone, in part because of its evident lack of drama. You are right, that when employers take advantage of workers, than a union is needed, but when everyone works together cooperatively, you really shouldn't, and to imply that the teachers got a bad deal here is just wrong. The absence of drama and drawn out contentiousness is worth a lot of $, in my opinion, and the teachers also know they are already well paid. Also John, i have to take exception to your other comment regarding administrative salaries. You seem to have an anti-administration bias and are not afraid to show it. Please correct me if it was not your intent, but to bluntly ask about that in the context of the article seems only designed to stir the pot of division between administration, staff and the community. I'm sure our administration is paid fairly, and fairly well, but their part in this seamless contract agreement seems to indicate that our money is being well spent. We could all learn something from d113. Kudos!!!
John Russillo May 13, 2012 at 09:51 PM
You take exception to what comment about administration salaries? That I expect management to feel the same pain as the teachers? This entire blog post is about fair treatment of the workforce. If that is truly occuring in district 113 then I commend them. I would very much like to see what raises the principals, assistant principals, and district staff are getting over the next two years. If it is anywhere close to 0 and 0.85% then I will join you in your Kudos. Anti-management bias? Absolutely. When the economy goes south who takes the hit? CEOs? CFOs? Superintendents? Nope. It's always the little guy. The guy who builds the cars, fixes the planes, teaches the kids. The rich get richer and that will probably always be the law of the land, but it certainly won't change if we are content to sit back and take it.
Mark Stein May 14, 2012 at 12:25 PM
When one side in a business relationship has absolutely no power in that relationship its amazing how easy it is to get an "agreement."
Tony Horwitz May 14, 2012 at 12:42 PM
The problem is the adversarial nature of the comments. Mark, as a union pot-stirrer, I take your comments as knowing the source. It is coming from that place where you imply that it is all about power. When all parties (note I don't say sides) feel empowered, there is no power struggle. and everyones energies can be focused on the common goals. John, coming from the airline industry, I can understand why you feel as you do, but the whole point here is that when everyone has the same goal (serving students) then there is no need for the contentious, position based bargaining which you seem to think is necessary. There is another way, and d113 has found it. Pitting the staff and community against the administration is divisive and serves no one's interests, especially the students. Having said that, it is true that a certain amount of trust is required. d113 has my trust! Let's just finish with an unqualified congrats to 113.
Tony Horwitz May 14, 2012 at 12:55 PM
Also the implication that somebody has to lose in order for someone else to win. While that may be true in some (too many) areas of our lives, and imbalance of power is certainly a huge factor, it is possible to get away from that paradigm, especially when everyone can agree on the goals.
John Russillo May 14, 2012 at 01:25 PM
You can finish however you like. My question still stands. For both 109 and 113. You've asked the teachers for significant concessions. What are you willing to do? Maybe the superintendent forgoing the car and gas card would be a very nice symbolic gesture. Maybe going on the same healthcare plan as the teachers would be appropriate. Both districts have significant capital objectives over the next several years. 113 asked for $133M from the taxpayers. Can you look us in the eye and say you've done your part? It's an absolutely valid question. One you and the administration are obviously very uncomfortable with, Tony. Why is that?
Mark Stein May 14, 2012 at 02:06 PM
The majority of the Districts in this area, (Deerfield 109, North Shore 112, Lake Forest 67, 113 included) are not in any financial difficulty. The state gives them the highest financial rating and their own reports show that they have stockpiled additional surpluses. Despite this, they tell the public that they will be broke soon if they don't cut back. People eat this up because everyone knows that there is a recession. For example, District 112 has $12,000,000 in its working cash fund and adds to it every year, but when they tell the public that they will be broke in five years, no one questions it. You assume that we always engage in position based bargaining. That simply isn't the case, but "interest based bargaining" doesn't work particularly well when the parties talk about economics. My point, which I will stand behind, is that when employees have no leverage, they inevitably have to accept what's offered. What I also find interesting in the articles that I have read is that District 113 is moving to a two tiered salary structure for the future. The articles don't describe that structure so we don't really know what was done. If, however, new teachers are going to be paid substantially less than veteran teachers in the future, it will be interesting to see what the future repercussions will be.
John Russillo May 14, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Of course that's the case, Mark. All of us at-will employees know this full well. We get our evaluation, are told what our raise will be, and say thank you. I'm not saying this is a bad system. It works for 90% of the workforce. But don't act like the teachers were "partners" in determining their salary package. They are obviously happy enough with what's going on in the district to not form a union. That's great. As a taxpayer I want to know more. If they are coming to me for money, I want to know details of the administrators' salary and benefits packages and how the board is planning to control those costs.


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