Chicago Teachers Give Strike Notice: Pennsylvanians Take Note

Taking a page from Pennsylvania’s normal role as the nation’s leading teacher strike state, Chicago teachers have just issued a 10 day notice of intent to strike. Not happy with the District’s offer of 2 percent raises, the 26,000 member union threatens to send 400,000 students home for a longer holiday.

The head of the school district pledges to meet with the union every day to avoid a strike if at all possible. Teachers are upset with Mayor Emanuel’s rescinding last year’s pay raise-something that cannot happen in Pennsylvania. They are also unhappy with the new, longer 7 hour school day. Just wait until negotiations over how to determine pay raises other than automatic increases based on seniority begin. Seniority is among labor unions’ most sacred cows. This could get ugly.

And the irony is that this happening in Illinois which has one of the worst financial situations of any state in the country with bond downgrades already announced and more could be coming. After the dark of night, last minute 67 percent increase in personal income taxes a couple of years ago, there is little for Illinois taxpayers to be happy about. Now comes the threat of a strike that could be prolonged and the possibility that, in the end, teachers will get their hoped for raises and no change in evaluation procedures. Such an eventuality will almost certainly mean Chicagoans and Illinois taxpayers are going to digging even deeper.

All this is by way of pointing out the absolute absurdity of allowing teachers to strike in the first place. Historically, Illinois along with Ohio and Pennsylvania, have accounted for virtually all teacher strikes in the U.S. Ohio tried to stop them but lost a referendum vote that repealed the elimination statute. Pennsylvania, the nation’s foremost victim of teacher strikes, has not seriously taken up the elimination of strikes. And one can rest assured that as soon as the economy shows any signs of sustained improvement, the Commonwealth will see its status of national leader return. Wisconsin has outlawed teacher strikes shrinking the list where strikes are allowed even further. And it is important to note that all of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states do not permit strikes.

Rally Participants Should Not Be Surprised

Nine community organizations joined together yesterday to rally for factors other than seniority to be considered when the Pittsburgh Public Schools takes action to reduce the employee headcount this fall, with at least 350 classroom teachers the initial estimate. Several advocacy groups said that the data is there to make a determination on effectiveness; the teachers’ union says seniority is the only fair way; the Board hopes to find a middle ground.

That the union is holding steadfast in its position on seniority should have come as no surprise: even as the District and the union worked on a pay for performance model and negotiated a five year contract in 2010 and there was a spirit of cooperation the documents applying for foundation money to support teacher effectiveness stated "…the [Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers] membership will be the final voice on collective bargaining issues" and "…the PFT membership will be the final voice on these initiatives [related to pay for performance]". The contract states that "system seniority shall be the sole applicable seniority criterion to be applied in the layoff of any teacher(s)". Even much of the contract language that implements the Teacher Effectiveness Plan contains special seniority provisions.

Seniority Rules: The Last Refuge of the Incompetent and Mediocre

Labor union devotion to the concept of seniority as the basis of determining pay, promotions, work assignment and order of layoff is little more than a means of building total allegiance of members to the unions. The problems created by the terms demanded in labor contracts that require seniority to be used in all manner of management decisions guarantees a continuing slide into mediocre performance, inefficiencies, weak productivity and higher than necessary labor compensation costs and benefits.

We see how seniority has played out in Pittsburgh schools and the Port Authority–indeed, in virtually every government operation where unions control the supply of labor. It has also worked its deleterious effects on large private corporations as well. The long list of firms that have moved operations overseas or closed up altogether is proof of the damage union demands including seniority rules have done.

The unions’ insistence on seniority is evidence of their desire to protect mediocre employees, including slackers and trouble makers. It becomes a form of tenure and a guaranteed-for-working life sinecure-as long as the employer stays in business. Union demanded primacy of seniority is proof positive that unions care not a whit for the economic wellbeing of their employers. Their focus is on getting all they can as quickly as they can even though such behavior is not in the long term best interest of more juniors members who will pay the price of union excesses by losing their jobs.

That is why private sector unions now represent only seven percent of the private sector workforce. The markets simply cannot sustain the stifled productivity and high costs fostered by unions. The public sector employers cannot go out of business for the most part and will not as long as taxpayers can be forced to pay for the labor cost excesses. But many will file bankruptcy. This is a new trend that has emerged and promises to grow stronger because of the enormous damage done to the finances of state and local governments by overly generous compensation packages.

Seniority deepens and ingrains in union members an elevated sense of entitlement that engenders bad work place behavior and causes a chasm to develop between the interest of the workers and the employers.

Newbies Beware!

Two news stories this morning go a long way to illustrating the heavy-handed public sector union attitude on how seniority trumps all when it comes to job cuts and job assignments.

At the Pittsburgh Public Schools budgetary constraints have led the administration to shutter the new teacher academy. In its application for funding to the Gates Foundation the District heralded the academy as a critical factor in its approach to instruction. "We believe that the Academy, with its emphasis on hands-on, applied learning will make a dramatic difference in the way in which we bring new teachers into the system".

While the Pittsburgh teachers’ union stated the decision to close the academy was a decision by the administration, the handwriting on the wall was clear: "…the collective bargaining agreement…would not allow new teachers to work while more senior teachers were furloughed." The proposal made it clear several times throughout that the union would have the final say on contractual matters. That makes the praise heaped upon the District and the union by a think tank quite misplaced.

Now to the meter readers, represented by another union and under a separate collective bargaining agreement with the Public Parking Authority. Even before higher rates and longer hours of enforcement went into effect the moaning and groaning over the right to select shifts began. The accusation leveled by the union is that newer part-time workers are getting daylight shifts and the more senior employees are getting evening hours. The implication is that Authority management is taking factors like absenteeism and ticket counts into their decision-making criteria.