Two of the most damaging misconceptions people have about labor unions are (1) that union members tend to be substandard workers (lazy, unreliable, surly, privileged), and (2) that union members can’t be fired because their “masters” will always go to bat to protect them.
Where they got the notion that union members are incompetent employees is a mystery. After all, even a cursory analysis of the economics should make it clear that union jobs—those, typically, with the highest wages, superior benefits and best and safest working conditions—are going to attract the most talented workers in a community. Why wouldn’t they? Why wouldn’t the best jobs in a community attract the best people? Yet, we allow ourselves to be swayed by the propaganda.
And as widespread as this anti-union propaganda is, it’s especially virulent when it comes to public service unions. Apparently, everyone and his brother (including President Obama and his Secretary of Education, the corporate lackey Arne Duncan) just naturally assume that it’s the teachers’ union that prevents conscientious, well-meaning school administrators from firing bad teachers.
People like to believe that if those grossly incompetent teachers did not belong to a powerful union, if they did not have cadres of union lawyers standing by ready to defend them, the administrators would be able to drain the swamp, to rid our schools of those union-created monsters who are holding our students hostage, depriving them of a decent education. That may be a gripping narrative, but it’s total fiction.
The following statistics are startling, but true. They were taken from the anti-union website “Teachers’ Union Exposed.” The site’s most recent figures show that California school teachers are 87.5-percent unionized. Accordingly, the percentage of “experienced” California teachers that were fired was 2.03-percent, and the percentage of “probationary” teachers that were fired was 0.98-percent.
By comparison, North Carolina, which is 97.7-percent non-union, fired 0.6-percent of its experienced teachers, and 0.3-percent of its probationary teachers. In other words, California and its big, bad teachers’ union was “tougher” on its union teachers than North Carolina was on its non-union teachers. It’s puzzling. School administrators in non-unionized North Carolina are in the position to fire any teacher they choose, but they don’t do that. They don’t fire their teachers.
"California and its big, bad teachers’ union was “tougher” on its union teachers than North Carolina was on its non-union teachers. It’s puzzling. School administrators in non-unionized North Carolina are in the position to fire any teacher they choose, but they don’t do that."
And why don’t they? The answer is that teachers—everywhere and anywhere, North, South, East and West, union and non-union—don’t deserve to be fired. Why on earth would they? Why on earth would we expect substantial numbers of our school teachers to be terminated for incompetence? Are our colleges and universities turning out such lousy teachers that we have no choice but to get rid of them?
We need to be clear about something. This move against the public schools and teachers’ unions is being orchestrated not by educational reformers interested in improving our schools, but by greedy entrepreneurs looking to privatize the whole shebang. The prospect of having millions of kids leave the public schools and enroll in privates or for-profit charters represents a potential gold mine.
So the next time a person tries to tell you that it’s the unions who are responsible for the problems our public schools are facing, take a moment to set them straight. Make it clear to them that this whole “union teacher vs. non-union teacher” dichotomy is a hoax. It’s a con game. Put it to them in the simplest possible terms. We’re being played for suckers.