For most of my business and professional life, I have been involved in labor relations. I was educated at a Quaker School and an Ivy League college, so my view of the labor movement, as absorbed from the teachers, was one of beneficent admiration for early labor leaders, John L Lewis, George Meaney, Walter Reuther and the like were seen as significant leaders for the down trodden workers in industry. There was the task of unifying labor in an organization that could combat the size and organization of corporations. These leaders took on the coal miners, and the auto companies and drove hard bargains to the benefit of the rank and file. It was the Golden Age of the labor movement. Then the decline began.
The decline was due to improved management that reduced workplace tension, the growth of federal and state laws that eliminated discrimination for age, race and gender, and the fact that union membership actually acted as a barrier to success as it imposed seniority systems and extracted dues, usually something close to $1,000.00 per year at current values. Unions just weren’t needed any more. The effect is that private sector union membership is down to 6.5% and declining.
In the public work place, that number is 36% of public workers. The Public Union-Democrat relationship is the most incestuous in the world of labor relations. Here, a Mayor and city council (of Detroit?) make a deal to pay a public union a large wage and provide a large pension and early retirement (so a new worker can be paid benefits and pay dues), and gold plated health plan, all paid for by the tax payers of that city. (This is a true story, as you may have guessed.) The quid pro quo was that the rank and file vote for the Democratic Mayor and City Council and that the union, enjoying its inflated wage structure, would rebate wages received as dues as campaign contributions. It was a perfect symbiotic relationship. It worked for police, firemen, and even teachers, but was highly destructive of city finance and high taxes forced tax payers to the suburbs.
The teachers in several locations seemed to be bothered by the trade off, however, that meant that good teachers could not be rewarded as the seniority system protected bad teachers, and the control over teacher’s lives by the union was really repulsive. It is also expensive. The remedy that the labor laws afford is called decertification. This is the opposite of the certification of the union. Decert petitions are still fairly rare, however, in Wisconsin, a major decertification has occurred. Read more about it here. Blog: Teachers Union Decertified in Wisconsin.
What this means is that the teachers now control their lives, they are graded on their competence and the pride is restored, kids will be taught better and each teacher just received a $1,000.00 raise, not bad for the ten seconds it took to vote on the decertification petition. This means that school boards must treat the teachers well, and they will, but the Democrats on those boards will be wondering why the campaign donations have stopped, as the teachers have decided that they have a better use for their money.