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.