September 18, 2006

Union Tactics

So, let's say the 20 creative personnel at my company all get together this morning, walk into our president's office, and say we want a 40% wage increase or we're all walking out of here. Sounds strangely like blackmail, no? But, when teachers do it, it's ok?


Anonymous said...

I'd suggest you look up the meaning of the word "blackmail."

Other than that, I have no issue with the situation you describe. Either you're (collectively) worth 40% more pay, or you can be replaced cheaply.

Eric Olsen said...

(one of several definitions from
blackmail - to extort money from (a person) by the use of threats.

Our president would likely give in, because the company would go out of business without us, but the company obviously could not afford to make our demands, so a likely ending would be several of us getting fired.

However, in a publicly funded institution, there is no "out of business", so the money appears.

Jeff said...

Boy, you've really got it in for the AFT/other teachers' union!

My advice would be to consider their workload and the responsibility endowed upon them. Consider what happens when they fail and what is possible when they excel. Consider the combat-like atmosphere many of them work in. And consider the hours beyond their "8-3" work schedule that many people assume to be the full responsibility of the job.

Then tell me with a straight face that a teacher earns what he or she deserves (on average ~$46,000, which includes the high salaries of teachers with lifetimes of experience, coaches, people with their masters & PHD holders who could be making 5 times as much in the private sector).

Then look up how teacher's salaries have grown lately -- you'll find that inflation outpaces it.

I'll admit that the unions can sometimes maintain positions for teachers who deserve to be let go.

But I just don't know how you can have it in for unions -- whose genuine purpose is to ensure we get better salaries for better teachers in the public schools -- and not be equally angered about the money that's routinely cut out of the budget from higher education grants and after-school programs (see Bush's FY2007 plan that cut education funding by $2.1 billion, or 3.8 percent, below the FY 2006 enacted level.)


Do you also have it in for the police and firefighters' unions?

I just don't understand the disconnect. What would make sense, in your world? Privatizing education altogether? You've genuinely piqued my interest with your second AFT-bashing post.

Eric Olsen said...

Yes, I would be in favor of privatizing education(al institutions) and funding the underprvileged's tuition for the simple fact that teacher's unions do not help students learn. It's the whole DMV/Postal Service argument I often present. John Stossel (libertarian) presented a revealing series on 20/20 about this.

That is a terrific picture by your comment, by the way. I want one of those.

Anonymous said...

you could always email out an update to old friends who love ya and would like to hear how things are ;)

Eric Olsen said...


once i get one I will. right now, we're still homeless! but, other than that, we're good.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, what would be wrong with privatizing it? Why can't teachers be put under the same circumstances as any other job? It's almost impossible to fire a teacher. The Stossel report mentioned earlier showed how it's so difficult to fire a teacher, they have buildings in New York city where they store the pedafile teachers. They aren't in the classrooms anymore, but they still get paid because it's too hard to fire them.

That same report showed how some new schools that work outside of the union have MUCH better scores than normal unionized schools. Bottom line, if a teacher has too worry about being fired, like anyone else working in America, he/she will tend to do a better job.

The $46,000 a year argument actually goes against unions in my eyes. Because they are in a union, teachers are going to get paid less to account for the teachers that aren't very good. If it was non-union, then the good teachers and the ones with the extra education could stand to make a lot more. No longer would we hear about the low pay of teachers because, just like any other job, they would get paid according to how well they do, not a unified union pay.

I don't see why teachers want the union. If you know you can be a good teacher, let it be non-union so that you can go after higher pay on your own and not worry about the other teachers around you. It seems like the only purpose of the teachers' union is to ensure job security. But why should their job be more secure than mine? All jobs have their own difficulties.

Jeff said...

I'm going to propose the classic rebuttal to such wayward libertarian thinking and say, "What's next, privatizing our police?" Should nice neighborhoods just contract out ADT to roam the streets, while the poorer neighborhoods are left to hire the cheapest gang/maffia to protect themselves? Would such a privatized system serve the general public better than our current police force? I think not.

My point is --- what makes a social service like police work and education vital for the common good is also what makes it necessary to keep it public. The private sector might streamline the higher end of the educational system to include some of the finest classrooms in the world; but what would their incentive be to take on poor neighborhoods? I think you're kidding yourself if a system that essentially depended on altruism to keep the poor educated would work.

Libertarianism and absolute devotion to the free market serves individuals great, but has absolutely no regard for the needs of the greater community or for externalities.

Like maintaining order, I'd argue the educational system is most definitely best left as a public service.

Lastly, thanks for the props on my little picture next to the comment. It's cropped from one of my favorite paintings, "Morning Underground."

You can create your own by editing your profile (on the right side of the Blogger dashboard when you log in. Then scroll down to "Photograph" and select a url where your photo is saved). Blogger's kind of annoying, because it weirdly restricts how long the URL can be; I just hosted the picture on my photobucket account and gave it a very short title.

Eric Olsen said...

Jeff, very good point. Hence my disclaimer earlier that stated that I would be FOR the public funding of the enrollment /service of these privatized institutions.

Jeff said...


Like I said -- unions sometimes have the unintended negative effect of preserving jobs for the unqualified.

But the overall benefit (not having a privatized system for the reason I mentioned above), I believe, outweighs those negative peripherals.

I didn't see Stossel's report (was it current?), but it sounds like he tapped into some pockets of extremism and made a case out of it.

You commented that teachers should have to worry about keeping their jobs -- they do. In many schools, they have to fight to get their contract renewed the first few years, particularly if they have a master's. Beyond that, they have to worry that the school isn't suddenly going to be constrained by further budget cuts and cut the art, music, or PE program. The union helps maintain some semblance of job security, such that they can't constantly keep hiring young teachers they can pay a cheap base pay, then kick to the curb after they reach the next tier in salary/experience.

Eric Olsen said...

so, how do we keep teachers motivated? how do we reward great teachers?

Jeff said...

But how would we decide who had to pay for their private education and who gets it for free? Or would there be levels at which you had to take on a higher % of the fee? Would you be free to go to any school in your neighborhood based on what you were willing to pay? Or would you go to your neighborhood's specific, local institute? If so, would you fear the potential for segregated schools based on income levels?

Also, would the government dictate that the private classrooms maintain a standardized curriculum? Or would private companies be free to teach the classes that they think would best offer returns on their investment? i.e. By training students for the business sectors that are most profitable?

Such a system is full of more questions and, in my mind, opens the doors for potentially disastrous results. But it's an interesting one, I'll give you that.

Eric Olsen said...

I'll let you federally pay for EVERY child, and I still think my way comes out ahead. I've read numerous statistics touting that private schools do not produce better standardized test scores than the public schools. So, is the consensus, private schools suck? No, because it costs $3,000 for a family to send their child to a private school and it costs $10,000 for taxpayers to send each child to public school.

Jeff said...


Without knowing where your stat for $3K vs. $10K per year tuition for school came from, or if it was just an rough example, I can't fully respond.

I will say that you didn't answer the most difficult question I posed of your proposed system -- how do you decide who gets their education subsidized and who has to pay in full or pay extra?

The fact is, I can't picture a model where the private sector isn't equally susceptible to the bureaucratic red tape and vastly inequal distribution of resources to our current situation. These are failures that sometimes accompany the public sphere and are just as likely in a massive private sector -- see the nightmare that is our current health care system. Yes, we have some of the best medical technology and innovative science in the world; and yet estimates show about 40 MILLION Americans (roughly 15%) don't have health insurance. That's staggering and shameful.


Secondly, consider the added impact that has on other industries; we're facing a health crisis that threatens majore American job providers (see the recent job purge at Ford, due partially because American automakers assume the burden of providing insurance that increases the cost/car manufactured vs. Germany or Japan) because of our over-dependence on a privatized system and insurance-gouging run amok.

Taking into account your added suggestion -- if we were to subsidize the education of poor peoples' children -- additionally consider the conservative bemoaning about the horrible "welfare state" of education we'd have.

I imagine a similar widening gap as the health care indsutry of such a privatized educational system and know it won't work.

Getting back to the AFT debate that started this all, I wanted to offer one more point. This is something I have to more research on, but my girlfriend who recently began pursuing her master's in secondary ed., has a professor who said before the union was created, many teachers, like himself, had 50+ kids in every classroom and no planning periods. This is just one example, of course, and might not encapsulate the full picture, but if you're going to harp on the unions for their failures, you also have to consider/highlight the tremendous positives they brought to the table -- by reforming more manageable classrooms, providing higher pay and a better work environment to encourage prospective teachers, and benefitting all students with improved lesson plans.

Eric Olsen said...

Answers in order:

Like I said, I would let you fully pay for EVERY child, since that's what we're currently doing, and privatizing (if studies are correct) would decrease tuition costs 3/1.

As far as our current failing industries, do you think it's a coincidence that they all have union labor?

You're afraid of conservatives bemoaning the privatized system more than our current "welfare" education system? Not a chance.

As far as your positives go behind unions, yes, I'm sure the "idea" behind raising teachers' pay and benefits was a noble one in the hopes that students would receive a better education, but that's simply not happening.

Jeff said...

Actually, according to 3 studies released this year (one done by researchers at UIUC and two done by the Federal Department of Education, despite their agenda to suppor NCLB) public students are outpacing their private student peers, even after you account for their financing and account for the socieconomic background of the students.

See here:

Money quote:

"The study also found that charter schools, privately operated and publicly financed (italics mine), did significantly worse than public schools in the fourth grade, once student populations were taken into account. In the eighth grade, it found, students in charters did slightly better than those in public schools, though the sample size was small and the difference was not statistically significant.

"Over all," it said, "demographic differences between students in public and private schools more than account for the relatively high raw scores of private schools. Indeed, after controlling for these differences, the presumably advantageous private school effect disappears, and even reverses in most cases."

That independent study was commissioned back in January. The Department of Education released a study in July and then another just over a week ago studying the impact of a voucher program that further confirmed those findings.

I haven't seen any studies that confirm your belief even when the 3/1 ratio is taken into account, so if they're out there, let me know.

Also, I'd like to view data to support the claim that public schools don't improve when classrooms are smaller.

Until we rehash studies, it's all conjecture. And that's on my end, too.

Eric Olsen said...

We have no power, so this stuff is all conjecture. I'm fine with that. So, is a "charter school" already doing what I'm proposing?

Anonymous said...

All these studies really don't mean anything, because the Stossel report on 20/20 called "Stupid in America" showed studies that gave the exact opposite results. He actually used a better comparison too. He didn't use private schools, he used public schools that "exempted" themselves from the teachers union (a new trend), and compared them to public schools in nearby districts, and the schools taught by the non-union teachers were producing much better scores than nearby union schools. I mean, this is easy, if a teacher is going to get $40,000 regardless of how well he/she teaches, is that person going to go the extra mile for his/her students? Probably not. But the teachers in the non-union environment do, because they're reviewed every year. Stossel's report wasn't an extremist report, he used a variety of examples from all over the country. He interviewed all kinds of people involved in education, and even accepted a challenge given to him by the union - to teach for a week in any district they wanted to put him in. Unfortunately, the union decided not to allow him to teach. It was a very entertaining 20/20 special. But again, studies are studies, and can easily be scewed by whatever particular group is creating it.

Eric Olsen said...

congratulations folks, most comments ever on this site, and just think, no one's been disuaded yet

Anonymous said...

What I don't get is why all these anti-union tirades fail to place any blame on the corporation/school board/whatever that signed the contract with the union to begin with. If you're being "forced" into any situation (for example, a union contract) where you can't be profitable, you stop doing business. Econ 101.

That's why Caterpillar is being quite successful, while GM ran itself into the ground. UAW at both places. Caterpillar had an 18-month strike.

This applies to your original situation, Eric. If your president would accept your demands even though he would run the company into the ground by doing so, he's a terrible businessman. He should have closed until the market could provide reasonably priced labor (I'm sure he would have found it in a day or two, and you would be jobless).

This also applies to school boards, although it's up to voters to hold them accountable (which they don't). Everybody knows about tenure. Nobody does anything about it. Getting rid of unions isn't necessary to getting rid of tenure and, really, is a seperate issue.

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