The Teachers’ Unions Are On The Ropes

They were marching in Madison. And they’ll be on a street in a state capitol near you in the coming weeks and months. The teachers’ unions are on the ropes, and they know it. They know that public opinion has shifted, and the public mood has shifted with it. And they know why.

The people now know all about the racket the teachers’ unions and other public employee unions have been running for the past twenty years. The public now knows that it is a bad idea to have union representatives and the politicians they elect sitting at a table negotiating pensions and health care benefits. Because there is no one at that table representing them. There is no one representing the taxpayer.

All of this started in New Jersey, of all places. Millions of residents started watching Governor Chris Christie challenge the teachers’ union on You Tube last year. Christie was armed with facts, figures and arguments the mainstream media never saw fit to report, and the union bosses he challenged had no real answers.

It was real news to the residents of New Jersey, how the teachers’ unions had rigged the system. Because for decades, the story went untold by the Newark Star Ledger and Bergen Record, the state’s two largest dailies. The editors either didn’t think the corrupt collective bargaining process was an issue worthy of a series, or didn’t have a problem with the process. I suspect that many of the editors liked being for what their ideological opponents were against. Because both of those papers are liberal by any objective standard, and those that challenged the teachers’ unions tended to be Republicans.

In the past, politicians who dared to challenge union power were portrayed by the unions and their supporters as the bad guys. As being against the children. As being against education. And the future.

Those days are over.

It ain’t easy being a Middle East dictator these days. Or a union boss. Or a newspaper editor or TV news producer.

But there is much more at stake than collective bargaining in this fight. The teachers unions themselves are on the ropes, as more Americans start to ask hard questions about how we spend our money educating our children. As we start to ask hard questions about tenure, about the hiring and firing of teachers, about merit pay, about charter schools, and about online learning.

The teachers’ unions are scurrying to protect their power, and are engaging in defensive maneuvers to protect their power. Because that has been the reality of public education for the last 30 years – the unions have been calling the shots on public education, while “We the People” paid the bills.

A New York Times headline on Thursday is Exhibit A of just how scared the unions are: “Leader of Teachers’ Union Urges Dismissal Overhaul.” Here is how that story began:

Responding to criticism that tenure gives even poor teachers a job for life, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, announced a plan Thursday to overhaul how teachers are evaluated and dismissed. It would give tenured teachers who are rated unsatisfactory by their principals a maximum of one school year to improve. If they did not, they could be fired within 100 days.

You heard it right. The union boss admitted that tenure is a bad idea. That giving a person a lifetime job after only 3 years of work is a really, really bad idea. But this admission is 30 years too late. The unions want to continue to control the education system, but they will lose this battle. Because it doesn’t make any sense to have the teachers’ unions in control of hiring and firing teachers. Any more than it makes sense to have inmates running parole hearings.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last year, Joel Klein, New York City’s Superintendent of Schools for the past 8 years, wrote an editorial that eviscerated the unions. After chronicling some of the innovations he spearheaded, he wrote this about entrenched union power.

“Changing the system wasn’t easy. The people with the loudest and best-funded voices are committed to maintaining a status quo that protects their needs even if it doesn’t work for children. They want to keep their jobs by preserving a guaranteed customer base (a fixed number of students), regardless of performance. We have to rid the system of this self-serving approach.”

The teachers’ unions are on the ropes. Thanks to a nearly three decade rule over how we run our schools, and how we choose and reward our nation’s teachers, their power is being successfully challenged by politicians who have the truth on their side. And the interests of the tax payers. And the children

Sadly for the union bosses, there is not much they can do about it.

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Military are bums
5 years ago

We need more unions in this country and not less. I’m sick of all the lies and BS about how union workers are lazy. Some of the laziest people out there are in non-union jobs..Just look at our military. All they do is sit on the collective fat asses all day and draw a paycheck from Uncle Sam for pushing papers and acting like they are important. They receive free medicare, education, housing for doing nothing. Just welfare in a uniform. Can’t get any lazier than that.

Military are bums
5 years ago

To add on..Most of them can’t even run a mile without puking out their guts. I was former military so I saw it. I ETSed with an Honorable Discharge because I actually wanted to work for a living and give back to my country as a teacher. I wish I had a nickle for every lazy ass person I came across in the military, I could retire. Bunch of losers that cannot hack it in the civilian world. Bunch of worthless leeches.

9 years ago

I am a retired teacher in Texas, a right to work state, where teacher’s salaries are not negotiated by unions. After 26 years of service, my final salary for a 187 day contract was $56,000. I consider that a very nice salary for a second income. In my area, it would be difficult for a family of 4 or more to live on that amount without a second paycheck. Many districts in rural areas pay much less. Salaries pretty much reflect the cost of living in the area where one works. And in Texas, teachers’ jobs are just as affected by the economy as any other job. When the economy sinks, we get the pink slips too.

Anyone who has never taught should probably not be making comments about the schedule of a teacher. Most teachers work seven days a week to keep up with the administrative duties, instructional technology, web page maintainance, data collection/analysis and everything else required of them to say nothing of their real job of lesson planning, preparation, grading and serving the students. If you add up the hours, I believe teachers’ work just as many (or more) than any other profession. Just because some of it is done at home doesn’t mean it is less pressure.

I believe Texas is better off being a non-union state. That’s why we have so many excellent, dedicated, self-sacrificing teachers. They have to stay current, be totally up-to-speed, and produce good results or the process for their growth or removal begins.

W Guertin
9 years ago

I am a conservative from Massachusetts and a Christian. The rants I hear from the misguided bloggers on your site regarding unions is stunning. Let’s not forget corporate greed and in many cases the revolving door of personnel turnovers and why unions offer security and representation. I belong to the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts and the International Association of Firefighters. The safety rules and regulations are what we fought for and bargained for. State Laws or Corporations just didn’t decide it would be nice to give them to us. I was interested in your services as opposed to AARP until I read about your lumping of all unionism into the same pot. And, by the way we contribute to our plan and don’t get full social security, no matter how many years we worked in the private sector. The anti-union ranters are quite ridiculous in their conclusions. If you don’t want to join a union, don’t. Go make it big incorporate America.

9 years ago


With teacher salary negotiations annually adding to the financial hardships facing the Elmhurst
schools, here are some thoughts for the Board of Education:
(1) Concern for Dollars Raised for the Education Fund: There is a great concern that when the Education Fund of a school district is increased, the teachers’ union will immediately compute the amount of increased revenue generated and then ask for twice this amount in the negotiation process.
Although union negotiators will continually insist that their concerns are for classroom needs, when it comes to a final settlement, it is always the amount of salary increase that settles negotiations.
(2) The Myth of the Underpaid Teacher: The average citizen has no idea how much teachers make because the teachers’ union has done an excellent job of perpetuating the myth that teachers are underpaid. While this may be true in many other states and even in smaller cities and rural areas in Illinois, it is certainly not true in Suburban Cook or DuPage counties. A complete listing of salaries, along with the stipends for extra duties–which can be substantial–should be made available to the public.
(3) What Do Teachers Get That Most Other Working People Do Not (and do teachers have any clue that they have these unusual benefits?):
(A) Guaranteed Lifetime Employment: Can anyone even put a dollar value on this incredi- ble benefit? Let’s ask the people who have lost their jobs through downsizing, technology changes, or transfer of their jobs to foreign countries how much “lifetime” employment would be worth to them, especially as they reach ages 50 and above.
Do teachers realize the value of guaranteed “lifetime” employment?
(B) A Pension System that is Probably in the Top 5% of All Occupations: With many teachers reaching retirement in the $80,000 – $100,000 (or more) range, and with the retirement system providing 80% of the last several year average for long-term teachers, many teachers are now retiring at $64,000 – $80,000/year or more. In order to generate this type of income yearly, at an annual interest rate of 5%, an individuals would have to have accumulated a sum ranging from $1,300,000 – $1,600,000! (And the state increases the amount by 3% each year of retirement.)
Do teachers realize the tremendous pension system they have and how much they would have had to save during their lifetime to get a pension like this? Do they consider this fac- tor when comparing themselves to other occupations?
(C) An Outstanding, Primarily District-Funded Medical Program: With many of the U.S. population without health insurance and with many companies reducing benefits or demanding a greater share of the costs from employees, teachers have an outstanding health insurance benefit that is paid largely by the school district. Any attempt to get teachers to contribute a portion to offset this cost is met with a “no-way” attitude.
Do teachers understand that their health benefit is better than most employed people have? Do they have any idea of the cost to the District? Do they realize that this tremendous benefit also carries to a great extent into their retirement?

Some Thoughts on Teacher Salary Negotiations Page 2

(D) A Salary Schedule That Has Yearly Step Increases for All Teachers Except Those at the Top of Their Ranges: Do teachers know that most companies do not provide automatic increases each year. It is incredible that teacher union negotiators do not view the “step increase” as a salary increase. Are there any other occupations where a per son gets more money this year than last year but claims it is not a raise? Teachers tradi tionally say, “We’re entitled to our step by simply being here–now how much is our raise going to be?”
Do teachers realize that most people who receive more salary this year than last year would consider that they had been given a raise?
(E) A Work Year that is Filled with Holidays and Extensive Time Off: With the teaching year approximately 175 days, and some of those days made up of “institute” or other non- teaching days, teachers have a work year that is the envy of all other working people who generally have a 260 day work year, with perhaps 6 holidays and 10 – 20 vacation days for a total of about 234 – 244 days or approximately 70 more working days or 14 5-day weeks more than teachers. Yes, many teachers have papers to grade and classes to prepare for but most other positions having the same salary ranges do not have 9 – 5 jobs, and many of these positions require extensive travel, “homework” and time away from home.
Do teachers appreciate the extraordinary work year they have?
(4) How Much Time is Really Required to “keep up to date” in their teaching fields? Is the amount of time to stay current in one’s teaching field any more than the type required to stay current in any other professional field? In fact, in a large number of subject areas, is any great expenditure of time needed? Yes, teaching is a stressful occupation, but so are most other occupations–especially if one is faced with loss of health insurance, pension rights or the job itself.
(5) Will the District Lose Good Teachers if it is Not Among the Highest Paying in the Area? This “scare tactic” is typically part of a union strategy as it continually pits one district against another. However, the desirability of the area–and the salary schedules as they stand–are so far above many others in the country, that applicants for all but the most difficult to fill subject areas (of which there are very few), will make teaching openings in this area very attractive to outstanding teachers from other areas. Local, experienced individuals high on the salary schedule will find resistance to hire from other districts who generally do not want to add teachers high on the salary schedules.
(5) A Negotiating Strategy that Always Works for Teacher Union Negotiators: At the beginning of negotiations, the union always presses the agreement that there will be no statements by either party until negotiations are concluded–and then the union constantly leaks information that is to their benefit while the school board honors its commitment for silence.
To eliminate the above, which works only to the benefit of the union, I would urge the board not to agree to limiting statements but to let both sides be free to keep the public informed at all stages of the negotiations. Specifically, what is the union demanding and what is the school board’s response. “Negotiations” is technically a misnomer because to the union it means–of all the thing we are asking for, which ones will you give us? There is never any “give-backs” or “trades;” ie. We will give you “A” if you agree to pay an increased portion of the district’s increasing costs of health insurance.
Conclusion: It is time for teachers to stop feeling sorry for themselves and recognize that they are among the privileged few in our society.

Deborah Moorin
9 years ago
Reply to  Vern

I am a mature american who, due to divorce and small children to raise, went back to school and earned an elementary teaching degree in Virginia where joining unions is not encouraged.

Now I’ve been working 10 to 14 hours a day and more, often 6 days a week, for 8 years in Bedford County Virginia. I must say the many days off that you speak about are not what they appear for me as I end up working more than half of every “vacation” cleaning up, staying organized, planning and preparing to teach with integrity and excellence.

Now, after all of this hard work I make only 35,000 a year which I am sure you know is well below what americans need to support a family of three in America no matter where you live and does not reflect what this kind of hard work for 8 years should garner.

As a conservative american, I would prefer that teachers earn raises each year rather than expect automatic increases, which by the way, due the economy teachers in my county did not receive for the last 4 years. However, that means educators have to trust our governments to pay us not only enough to live but also fair salaries that reflect our level of dedication and service to our students, their families and the communities in which we work. Many of us have to work and live in places where this is not the case so maybe a more objective approach would better serve your cause.

Clearly, there are no simple, one size fits all answers and as usual outrage on either side of the issue is unproductive at best.

9 years ago

I’ve voted for every educational tax increase for the past 40 years in my community–always at a sacrifice to my standard of living. Recently, the local teachers’ union was asked to forego the 3rd year small increase to help solve the high school’s budget problem. The response: “We can’t make this sacrifice.” Guess who won’t be voting for any more education tax increases.

9 years ago

As a Shop Steward and Area Strike Director years ago, I saw the inside operation of Unions. They served our middle class well for many years. Then the tried to destroy this country. They sent our jobs across the border. The corrupted the Education system. There are three generations of teachers in my family and each one has integrity and excellence in their careers…inspite of the union…not because of them!

9 years ago

I was seriously considering joining ya’ll until I read this Union bashing article.
Since you are just another right wing group. I’ll just pass….
You Union bashers need to remember where your 40 hour work week, healthcare benefits, retirement plans and Worker Safety programs come from. Every system has its flaws but the Unions are not your enemy. The Politicians have tried to make it so.

9 years ago

I have seen what these unions represent commies, & far left loons.If thats what teachers want to represent them i feel sorry for them.I was a union member for 48 years and i never seen the unions this bad.I would never want any of these commie unions i see today represent me.Teachers of Wisconsin will do better without them.

Appraiser Jim nPA
10 years ago

Thank you Governors for the hard work your doing. It’s about time things are changing before these union guys break the bank.
I was part of a union for 10 yrs in the private sector. I saw and knew first hand the corruption. I stepped out of the union into the company side after see so many unfair practices all for the dollar, all for the power over someone else.
This year at Christmas someone mentioned the Govenors name at the table. My sister in-law and brother in-law, both teachers in NJ almost had their veins pump out of their necks & foreheads with pure hatred & disdane.
Keep up the good work Gov. The liberals have to stop running the show here.
Thank You

JB, Sr
10 years ago

If you own it, nobody has anything to say about it – –
If it’s provided for you by others – you have nothing to say about it ! ! ! !

10 years ago

Don’t you see they’re pitting us against each other while robbing us blind? This is class warfare. They lead you into thinking the problems are with unions-of course there are problems with unions, but the real problem is with the governors, the banksters, the ceo’s who shutter 55,000 factories in the U.S. and move overseas, hire foreign workers at 20-30c an hour, create minimum 10-15% unemployment here in the U.S., get paid outrageous salaries and bonuses, get $700 billion in interest free loans, give nothing back to our country, and then blame the ones they have laid off for these problems!

Before you start calling me names, just think about what I just wrote. Just for a minute. Let it sink in. Now I ask you, can you concoct a better scheme than this?

Adam F. Kohler
10 years ago

Thank you Governor Christie for leading the charge and change! Thank you Governor Walker for continuing the charge in WI.

10 years ago

I agree that there are bad teachers in public school systems, but they are not in the majority and there are ways to relieve mediocre teachers from their tenured positions. The problem with that is that administrators do NOT want to bother with the required observations and documentation required to dismiss these teachers. On the other hand, the majority of the teachers who are employed to TEACH your children is that they are not only required to LEAVE NO CHILD BEHIND, but that we HAVE to deal with the poor, welfare aided children, children with defects, violent students, children who are the unfortunate product of broken marriages, single parent, or no parent homes, foster children who have been forgotten, children of special needs, children who have no food, very little clothing, no jackets, oftentimes, no shelter, no place to go home to that they stay on campus until dark and are there at 6 AM before the teachers arrive, waiting for the “free” breakfast. I could go on, but I think I have made the point. WE, and I am a teacher, have to not only TEACH these children the academics, but have to see that they are in a position to learn, with some food in the stomach, materials to work with, we spend our OWN money to buy them these necessities, buy the materials we need to teach them (pencils, paper, rulers, glue, scissors, etc.) because we don’t have any provided by the schools. We also have to teach them how to behave at school. It is common to hear expletives coming from even the very young any minute of the day because that is what they hear at home, and in the street. They often do no appreciate by word, by giving a thank you, or a please, without being taught even at the high school level where I teach geometry. I am on my feet all day (I teach geometry) and I have to take my grading home, my preparations for the next day which are required by the administrators to cover their butts, and I stay until 7 or 8 at night during the week, and go in on Saturdays or Sundays to input grades. There are many like me who have to teach the “unteachable”…the ones that will NOT be accepted to charter and private schools because it is too much to bear, who cannot be home schooled because there is no home, or no one educated enough to home school the child. You all have a lot of nerve categorizing teachers that you have never met, never sat in class with, never followed around to see what has to be dealt with daily. Our new teachers cannot cope with all of this responsibility and for you to claim that our teachers do not deserve their pensions and union representation is totally UN-American. Children are your future, not just your polite children at home, but ALL of the children. We need more support from the home to teach them VALUES so that the students will VALUE the education being presented and be MOTIVATED to always do their best. I thought this would be a good organization to join. I am proud to be an American, but when I read all these comments I was ashamed. You must all be so narrowminded and selfish to think that our nation’s children have been doomed with lazy teachers. If you had a bad experience with a teacher, then you should have accompanied your child to his/her classes, documented notes about this good for nothing teacher. I know there are a few, but most are hard working and selfless. You all should be ashamed. I deserve the salary I get for presenting the material I must teach to students who are like the horse that you can take to the water, but not drink. The money is being wasted at the admistrative level, not the teachers. There are too many unnecessary adminstrative positions in the main office of any district, and the many secretaries they have for each one. This is where a lot of waste exists in school districts, but the teachers are a necessity. I am in California. I have classes of 40 students per class. In middle school I had students of 36 per class. I did not have any T.A.s and I do NOT sit at my desk at all when I have students. I am up teaching, on my feet, and I grade papers and get ready for the next day(s) after school, and my weekends. I even go home to make dinner and see my family for an hour or two, then return to my school (which is in a low socioeconomic area) and stay until sometimes 10 PM. Then I am back on the job the next day at 6:30 or 7 am. How many of you can do that? THINK about it AGAIN!

10 years ago

You all sound crazy. Like you’ve been drinking the Kool-aid too long….

10 years ago

Looks like Superman has finally shown up in the guise of Gov.Chris Christie. Well done Gov.!

10 years ago

I would like to say thank you to all the Govenors like Walker that are doing at a state level what we needs to be done on a federal level. Cutting back at waste, balancing budgets, creating jobs. They are proving that it can be done and with countinued state successes the citizens of this country have the proof they need to force the Federal Government to do the same. November 2012 should prove to be very interesting indeed.

Terri J
10 years ago

I very strongly agree with kjerry– Education vouchers would introduce free enterprize to education and allow the consumers (parents) to choose where to spend their money. Schools that provide quality education in a safe environment would naturally attract more students. Parents would be able to vote with their vouchers and poor teachers/school systems would simply not be in demand. The biggest opponents of school vouchers are the teacher’s unions and that should be a dead giveaway!

There are a multitude of social problems that contribute to disfunction in the classroom, from illegal immigration, poverty and the welfare mentality to lazy, uninspiring teachers who also have a welfare mentality (feeling like they deserve a paycheck without producing anything) but it seems to me that any time we raise the bar and eliminate rewards for laziness and mediocrity, quality will rise. Given the opportunity, I believe that most parents would choose to place their kids under excellent teachers who are worthy of the parents’ trust, and then support and work with those teachers.

We opted to send our kids to a very small Christian school in spite of severe criticism from some family members and some very condescending attitudes from “professional” teachers. Later, we opted to homeschool and experienced more eye-rolling and remarks about our qualifications to oversee our kids education. Every one of my 7 kids has gone on to some higher education–military, community college or university, working to support themselves (and paying taxes) while doing so. Look around at the swelling homeschool movement and the increase in Charter schools–that should tell people something about how parents feel about their kids’ education!

I also want to respond to Bob, who says that “almost all union members vote Democratic” and states that Republicans are “only for the rich and want to tear the middle class apart.” That’s precisely the rhetoric spewed by our union reps every election year as they take OUR union dues and line the campaign pockets of politicians we vote AGAINST! It may be true that most members vote their pocketbooks without regard to what the candidate stands for, but that doesn’t make it right–it’s the same “me first and to heck with everyone else” mentality that is destroying our education system, our industry, and even our economy. Very few, it seems, take pride in their work any more.

I appreciate what Jeff said: ”
The American dream is NOT having a gravy-train job that allows you to make a living regardless of your contribution. The American dream is to rise according to your skills and abilities…” I wish more Americans still believed that~

Caroline P.
10 years ago

This is all true, however, and with respect, I do not agree parents are to blame: sure there are parents out there that do not care, that’s always been the case, but a vast majority (at least where I come from) care temendously ….the question is,
how do we get heard? What do we do to make this wrong right…..if
for nothing else, the sake of our

Mary Anne Bernhard
10 years ago

I might add that what is really wrong with our education system is that parents aren’t parenting. They expect teachers to raise their children and teach them right from wrong. Yes – we do have some exceptional familes/parents, but as a whole, it has been parents who aren’t doing their job at home. Education is the key to success and it takes FAMILIES and teachers together to raise a healthy, well-adjusted, academically strong student.

Mary Anne Bernhard
10 years ago

We don’t have Unions in Texas ! The teachers in our state contribute to their pensions and there is no free ride. We work diligently and fully support our students. Remember when you are criticizing groups and running off at the mouth ….you can’t use the word ALL ……Texas Teacher and proud of it !

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