Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Unions hold the first day of school hostage to get what they want in contract negotiations

Unions hold the first day of school hostage to get what they want in contract negotiations

By Steve Gunn
NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. – The start of a new school year is supposed to a fresh start, a chance for students who may not have done well in the past to get their act together, and a chance for outstanding students to continue to push forward in their academic pursuits.

But in far too many public school districts in too many states, the start of school is never guaranteed. It depends on the mood of self-serving teachers unions that insist on playing collective bargaining games, just as the kids are trying on their new clothes and loading up their backpacks.
They hold the new academic year hostage in an attempt to get what they want at the bargaining table. They know they will have the support of uninformed parents who simply want summer vacation to end, and they use that support as leverage against local school boards.
Newspapers across the nation have been full of stories in recent weeks about school boards and unions engaging in down-to-the-wire contract negotiations.
Frequently there is a last-minute breakthrough, resulting in a new contract and classes beginning on time. That can be bad in another way. School boards are under intense pressure in these hurried negotiations, feeling the need to make giveaways they may not be able to afford to ensure that teachers will be present for the first day of school.
The unions know exactly what they’re doing. It’s a very effective strategy to threaten the first day of school.
But sometimes the negotiations remain fruitless, the teachers hit the picket lines and the children suffer.

Kids were on buses when the strike began

Of course the biggest news on this front comes from Chicago, where the teachers union last week filed a 10-day strike notice with the district. That union is clearly determined to strike in order to create leverage for its absurd 30 percent pay raise demand in a district that’s nearly $1 billion in debt.
But at least the Chicago Teachers Union has given fair notice of its selfish intentions.
In North Kingstown, Rhode Island, contact talks between the school board and teachers union went late into the night last Monday, the day before classes were scheduled to begin. When the talks failed to produce a resolution by 11 p.m., the teachers decided to strike.
But news doesn’t travel fast when an entire community is sleeping. Superintendent Phil Auger was not able to cancel classes until 6:30 a.m. the next morning, 10 minutes after he noticed teachers walking a picket line.
Some students were actually on school buses when they (and the bus drivers) heard about the strike and the cancellation of their first day. We have to assume the bus drivers are not members of the teachers union, or they might have dropped the kids off wherever they were when they heard about the work stoppage.
We have to wonder how many parents had to call in to work at the last minute because their little ones had an unexpected day at home. So much for unions caring about the interests of working people.
The major disagreement between the two sides is a school board decision to privatize the district’s custodial department, according to the newspaper.  A total of 26 custodians were laid off, while 20 were subsequently rehired by the private company that was contracted to perform the service.
The school district expects to save between $400,000 and $600,000 by privatizing – a big chunk of money for any cash-starved district. That’s money that can be used to pay for student programs, services and activities. That’s money that can be used to avoid teacher layoffs.
It’s a shame about the custodians losing their higher-paying positions, but we’re living in tough times. We would rather see a school district lay off support staff than make cuts within the academic program. Public schools are supposed to be centers of learning for children, not sources of high-paying jobs for adults.

Threats, pouting are unacceptable distractions

Fortunately strikes are infrequent for teachers unions at the start of the school year. But many unions continue to menace school boards with threats of a walkout, distracting everyone from the only task that should matter – the instruction of students.
Teachers in Pennsylvania’s Abington Heights school district have been working without a new contract for more than a year. That doesn’t mean they are suffering in any way. In most states teachers in those situations continue to work under the generous terms of previous contracts, with automatic, annual “step” raises and other benefits intact.
Teachers will report for the first day of school in Abington Heights, but recently voted to authorize their union to strike at any time. That means the school year will begin with a dark, threatening cloud hanging over the district, and it will only go away if the union gets its way.
It would be unwise to bet against a strike in Abington Heights. The last collective bargaining agreement was approved in 2007, and that was the first time since 1985 that the union didn’t strike at some point during contract negotiations, according to the
Teachers working without a contract are also prone to organized pouting, which is another form of unacceptable distraction.
In Pennsylvania’s Lower Merion school district, classes began on schedule last Tuesday, despite the lack of a new collective bargaining agreement for the teachers union.
While administrators described the first day of school as a positive experience, the union president reported otherwise.
“The mood in my meeting (Tuesday) morning was anxious and somber,” union President Chris Santamaria told “I updated the teachers and support staff on the failure to secure a contract before school begins.”
Does that mean the teachers reported to their classrooms in an “anxious and somber” mood? If so, how does that affect students and the learning process? Kids aren’t stupid. They can tell when their teachers are unhappy, and when they are giving less than their best effort.
This sort of organized pouting occurs on schedule, every time a collective bargaining agreement expires and negotiations for a new one last more than a few weeks. The union members are basically following a prepared script to try and gain the community’s sympathy.
It shouldn’t be this way.  Collective bargaining should have no effect on the school calendar or the attitude or performance of teachers.
Classes should begin on the chosen date, and any teachers who fail to show up as a form of labor protest should be immediately fired. Teachers who clearly demonstrate their unhappiness during school hours, particularly over a labor dispute, should be sent home until they can adjust their attitudes and focus solely on students.
Taxpayers part with their hard-earned money to pay for education in their communities. No organization should have the power to postpone or interfere with the education process.
Unfortunately we continue to tolerate the union games that zap so much money, focus and emotional energy from our public school system.

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