October 24, 2011
Are We/They Worth It? Collective Bargaining for Public Employees
In the October 14th Chronicle of Higher Education article "Faculty Unions Ponder New Strategies in Changed Political Climate," author Schmidt reports on the largely successful campaigns in both Ohio and Wisconsin to defeat the right of faculty unions to engage in collective bargaining.
I was particularly dumbfounded by this quote from Connie Werkamp, the press secretary for Building a Better Ohio, a campaign organization formed to ensure Ohio legislation (SB 5) which defeated collective bargaining rights for public employees in Marc h 2011 was not repealed by referendum next month:
"The issue here is that these are public employees who are paid by the taxpayer to educate our kids at our universities. They are making good salaries and they get good benefits - often better benefits than those in the private sector."
(According to Schmidt, tenured faculty earn over $70,000 annually while the median household income in Ohio is about $46,000.)
Maybe I am reading too much into this quote, but the alternative to Werkamp's description would be that Ohio should pay their faculty less than what they would be worth in the private sector.
So I am a little biased because I am a unionized public employee, and I don't have "kids" of the two legged kind, but if I did, I would want their fine, dedicated educators to be well compensed for their work - if for no other reason than to secure their continued presence at that university. And, although this is total conjecture, my guess is that most of the tenured and untenured faculty members spent many years earning doctorates, masters, and performing field work, empirical analysis, and living a rather meager lifestyle. I just don't see many of us living la vida loca.
To be fair, the debate about collective bargaining for educators is just part of a larger movement to trim budgets and stem spending. Executive branches from California to Massachusetts are cutting staff, salaries, and benefits in an effort to stay solvent during the economic crisis. Public employees, like private, do have to shoulder their fair share of the burden; however, insinuating that educators are not worth their money is insulting.
There is always the ONE who gets away with "it," but most of us are dediated and hardworking and hardly feel overpayed. I am assuming that most of us "public employees" like to believe that we do make a difference in the lives of our students and appreciate being compensated for that hard work. In fact, a study published in 70(4) Harvard Education Review 437 (Winter 2000) compared standardized test scores to union representation found a statistically significant and positive relationship between student test performance and teacher union representation. (Do Teacher Unions Hinder Educationalal Performance.)
Summary of the situation: In Ohio, the legislation which undid the collective bargaining rights of faculty is going to be put to a public vote on November 8th. In Wisconsin, the legislation had a more colorful path. After being passed into law, a state court set it aside and declared it unconsitutional. Then, the state Supreme Court reversed the lower court and reinstated the legislation. In addition to the situations in Ohio and Wisconsin, there are five states that prohibited all collective bargaining for their public employees: Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. It is hard to believe that the 50 years of labor law history I studied at law school is being turned on its head.(VS)