LETTER: Teachers need unions

Monday, March 14, 2011 | 12:35 p.m. CDT; updated 8:36 p.m. CDT, Monday, March 14, 2011

As a retired Minnesota teacher and a former union member, I was astonished and appalled to read a recent article in the Missourian by Mr. Brad Clemons, in which he makes negative, demeaning inferences directed at the protesting teachers in Wisconsin and other states. His comments show a lack of sensitivity, understanding and respect toward his fellow teachers and a basic ignorance about unions and collective bargaining.

First of all, saying that these teachers are making all teachers look like "spoiled brats" in the public eye is simply not confirmed by recent Wisconsin and national polls. Mr. Clemons might be surprised to learn that 67 percent of the Wisconsin public polled sided with the protesting teachers and their main grievance — the desire of Gov. Scott Walker to strip teachers of their collective bargaining rights. In a similar national poll taken by The New York Times, a similar majority of the public sided with the teachers' current grievances.

We are learning something fundamental about the American public. Whether they are pro- or anti-union, the average citizen thinks stripping workers of their fundamental right to collectively bargain with their employer runs counter to what a compassionate democratic government should be about and simply goes too far. That is, indeed, encouraging news. In other words, these Republican governors have overreached, and the public is getting the message.

Since Mr. Clemons and others of his persuasion apparently do not appreciate or understand the importance of unions and collective bargaining and that unions have been good for all workers and not just those that are unionized, perhaps a little history lesson is in order. The fight by teachers for fair and equitable treatment goes back at least 50 years. The more progressive northern states, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan, led the fight along with such eastern states as New York and Massachusetts. The teachers in these states were among the first in the country, some 40 to 50 years ago, to gain collective bargaining rights. All teachers across the country have benefited to some degree by their efforts. To quote an old proverb, "A rising tide lifts all boats."

Teachers like Mr. Clemons should be grateful to these "pioneers." But why is collective bargaining such an important feature of teacher contracts? In the early days before unions and effective teacher organizations, teachers had no protection from vindictive, unscrupulous employers. Teachers could be burdened with impossible teaching loads or not compensated for extra activities. They could be dismissed for petty, arbitrary reasons that had little to do with their classroom performance.

Presently in most states that have unions or effective teacher organizations, such unjustified firings, and unreasonable or unfair treatment of teachers can be addressed through union representatives and collective bargaining. That doesn't mean, for example, that a teacher can't be fired, nor should it, but administrators now must show justification through such procedures as remediation, evaluation and documentation. Arbitrary, vindictive, unwarranted dismissals are now nearly impossible if teachers hold their employers to the letter of the law.

But the real issue here goes much deeper and has profound implications, positive or negative, depending upon who wins out. The teachers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are fighting for an important democratic principle — workers being afforded the human decency of being allowed to work cooperatively with their employer to help establish fair and equitable conditions of employment. A democracy that mistreats or ignores its workers and middle class is headed down a most perilous path. That should frighten all of us.

Herb Panko lives in Columbia.

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Jake Gingerich March 14, 2011 | 2:48 p.m.

This sounds like its coming from an individual that lacks enough talent, intellect,or work ethic to keep a job on his own so he needs to pay union bosses to secure his job for him. that way he doesnt have to worry about losing his job regardless of performance, and still get paid premium wages!

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 14, 2011 | 3:16 p.m.

The real problem is:

We are quickly getting to the point where we can't afford public employees any more.

Regardless of self-proclaimed or real "importance".

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush March 14, 2011 | 3:35 p.m.

Well said, Mr. Panko. I also found it shameful to characterize exercise of the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble as a tantrum from a spoiled brat. I wondered if Mr. Clemons would use a similar characterization about someone who protests against the forced quartering of troops or infringement of the right to keep and bear arms.

"We are quickly getting to the point where we can't afford public employees any more." Is that code for "surplus population" or "privatization"?

(Report Comment)
Ellie Funke March 14, 2011 | 5:28 p.m.

Someday I hope people realize that we no longer 'need' the unions. The unions need teachers. They need anyone they can compel to take their hard earned money to turn around and give the Democratic party. There was a time when organized labor was the only way to bring employers to the bargaining table. Now we bargain with employers everyday through the free-market system. The teachers are not the problem the unions need reformed.

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger March 14, 2011 | 5:47 p.m.

Ellie writes, "Now we bargain with employers everyday through the free-market system."

Could you explain exactly how that works?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 14, 2011 | 6:12 p.m.

hank ottinger says, "Could you explain exactly how that works?"

When you enter into employment, you enter into a bargain. The employer says, "I have a job to be done, and I think you are the person to do it. I will pay you $XXXX and, in return, you do the job I expect you to do."

And, you say, "I want this job, and I'm the person to do it. I will do the job you expect me to do, and in return you pay me $XXXX.

It's a bargain that is tested minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, etc. Both sides accept the bargain...or reject the bargain. If anyone fails, such as you not getting paid (employer breaks bargain) or you not doing your job (employee breaks bargain), then the free-market prevails, you find another job, the employer finds another employee, and life goes on.

OR, either side can screw it up by "post-employment" changes to the agreement.....ergo, employer changes the rules, or you (union) changes the rules. This activity is NOT free-market.

(Report Comment)
Tony Robertson March 14, 2011 | 8:10 p.m.

@G. Bush: To the best of my admittedly limited knowledge, I am unaware of any state governments legally required to negotiate contracts with the Nat'l Rifle Association, which affect present and future outlays of taxpayer money.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle March 14, 2011 | 8:21 p.m.

The size of the labor pool dictates collective bargaining needs. In small business, not so much. In big operations, probably so. This is like abortion and drug use anyway. Outlawing it doesn't stop it, just doubles down on the damage.

As for schools, specifically... I still say I believe in the concept of public schools, but... they sure try my patience sometimes. In the end, the educational venue is less important than parents. FWIW

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 14, 2011 | 8:41 p.m.

Derrick Fogle says, "The size of the labor pool dictates collective bargaining needs."

The supply of the labor pool directly affects salaries. There are reasons why teachers are not paid what they are worth, and the number of folks wanting to be teachers is a huge one.

I support increasing teacher salaries by 50% or so. I also support making it difficult to become OR remain a teacher. Teachers need no union. They just need to find a way to limit the labor pool.

(Report Comment)
frank christian March 14, 2011 | 9:05 p.m.

Mr Bush - "I also found it shameful to characterize exercise of the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble as a tantrum from a spoiled brat." This what the brats were "peaceably assembling" for.

some of the "rights" the union is being asked to relinquish: right to have an employee lose job if will not join union. to have State of Wisconsin deduct union dues from member pay checks. Have secret ballot annually to make sure majority want to be in the union and the real reason for the whole mess, the Wisconsin Education Ass'n will no longer pick the health care co. for its members. This will cost the union a fortune, while saving Wisconsin at present least $200 per month per employee. Shows a letter from Wisconsin Police Association to a Milwaukee business threatening boycott if it did not send a letter of union support by a given date. Nice bunch of people you are bent on supporting here, Gregg.

(Report Comment)
Ed Ricciotti March 14, 2011 | 9:48 p.m.

I believe Marshall & Ilsley Corporation is the parent company of the bank of the same name. This bank supported Walker and the union members took their money out of the bank, causing it to shut down early.

This bank also received TARP money.


Yes this bank took taxpayers money for making bad decisions and what do I see on these boards, people eating their own. It is so sad. Unions, teachers, and firefighters are not the crooks. It is those you take the 9 cookies out of ten and pit the middle class against each other for the last cookie that are the crooks. :)

(Report Comment)
Tony Robertson March 14, 2011 | 10:23 p.m.

A level-headed take on the goings-on in Madison:

I will say that Michael Moore, Rachel Maddow, and Ed Schultz have been hilariously entertaining through all this.

(Report Comment)
frank christian March 15, 2011 | 8:38 a.m.

Ed Ricciotti - "Unions, teachers, and firefighters are not the crooks." You got two out of three right, which normally wouldn't be bad. I haven't heard or read anyone whom blames teachers, firefighters, police, etc. for the financial chaos caused by their Unions. Can you address the outrageously expensive favors listed above that unions have extracted from Wisconsin gov't, "because they could"?

You also rightly threw in TARP as a problem for tax payers, but, TARP is a beast devised by liberals to suck up money in large quantities from the people. Creators of TARP along with the unions should be included in any reference to "the crooks".

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger March 15, 2011 | 11:07 a.m.

Frank writes, " TARP is a beast devised by liberals to suck up money in large quantities from the people. Creators of TARP along with the unions should be included in any reference to "the crooks".

One could differ about the efficacy of TARP, butI believe it was "created' by the Bush administration, not exactly a bastion of liberalism.

(Report Comment)
frank christian March 15, 2011 | 11:41 a.m.

Mr. Ottinger - TARP, "butI believe it was "created' by the Bush administration," This statement is incorrect.

TARP was "created" by Larry Summers and Tim Geithner, two Obama men (from Paul Krugman in Huff Post) delivered rough, 12 pages?, form by H. Paulson to Nancy P. who, according to Paulson demanded that it be written up in the House. It was and was passed by both D controlled bodies and sent to Bush, who reluctantly, (according to him) signed it. Do you remember, not many wanted Geithner as Treasury Sec., but,he was sold as the only who would know how to administer the TARP program?

(Report Comment)

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