Daniel has a spring break this week, so I drove the kids to Kentucky so we could visit my parents. My mom and dad have been following the protest movement in Wisconsin pretty closely, since I live there and all, and this morning my mom brought to my attention this opinion piece printed in this morning's Lexington-Herald Leader.
The article is filled with inaccuracies and misrepresentation of both the situation in Wisconsin and the role of unions for teachers. No wonder: it's written by two people who run the Association of American Educators, which specifically advertises itself as supporting non-union teachers. I couldn't just let it go without a response, so I posted a rather lengthy comment on the article online, which I have re-printed below:
I live in Madison, WI, and have witnessed first-hand the weeks of protests and demonstrations there. There are many inaccuracies and misrepresentations in this opinion article by Beckner and Jackson-Eaglin, and I hope to address a few of them here.
First, the statement "Despite pleas to work with unions from legislators, union bosses have made it clear that they would rather see teachers laid off in certain states than make concessions during difficult economic times" is categorically untrue. Within the first week of protests in Madison, state employee unions agreed to make ALL economic concessions Gov. Walker asked for in order to balance the budget, in exchange for keeping their collective bargaining rights. This amounts to a 8-12% paycut for state employees, including teachers, which translates to a significant reduction in monthly take-home pay. Even with these economic concessions and repeated requests to come to the table for negotiations, the governor and Republican leaders in the State legislature flatly refused. (Here is a link to one of many articles recounting Walker and Senate leader Fitzgerald's refusal to budge.)
Second, the statement "In no way does the legislation eliminate the union; rather, it reins in its ability to forcibly collect dues from teachers" is also untrue. Walker's budget repair bill forces unions to hold a vote annually just to remain in existence. This effectively DOES eliminate unions, especially since Walker's bill also strips nearly all public employee unions of collective bargaining rights (all but the police and firefighters). With no power to bargain with the state for fair wages and working conditions, and forced to hold elections every single year to remain in existence, unions will be eliminated. Does the AAE have annual elections to exist? Do politicians have to be re-elected on an annual basis?
Third, the statement, "The unions have enabled AWOL legislators in Wisconsin with their rhetoric, fueled never-ending protests, trashed state capitols, and left their posts in the classroom for days" is a blatant misrepresentation of the situation. Again, I LIVE in Madison, and I have witnessed these events firsthand. Over the past month, thousands upon thousands of people have exercised their democratic right to free speech expressing their deep dissatisfaction and anger with Walker's budget bill. There is absolutely no way a few union leaders are powerful enough to have made this happen on their own! Additionally, this movement has been entirely peaceful with no violent incidents and no arrests made, just lots of shouting and a few dozen protesters engaging in civil disobedience when Walker's administration ordered the Capitol closed to the public against a judge's order.
I have been to the protests 100,000 strong, I have been inside the Capitol building many times throughout the past several weeks, I have stood among the teachers, nurses, doctors, public safety officials, university professors who work for the state of Wisconsin, and I have seen the thousands of students (Kindergarten through college), parents and non-unionized workers from the private sector who support the state employees.
After all these points I've made, I think the real problem with Beckner and Jackson-Eaglin's article is that they completely misrepresent the purpose of unions in the first place. The number one purpose of a union is to collectively bargain a fair work contract for the employees it represents. This includes wages, benefits and work conditions. Wisconsin has the oldest public employee unions in the entire country, in which teachers play a large role. Wisconsin ALSO has one of the best system of public schools in the nation. This is not a coincidence.