26 May 2010

Do Unions Make Education a Socialist System?

DISCLAIMER: I have only been in education for five years, and I don't fully understand unions, or the intricacies of the education system.  Even though I plan to move into administration in the future, The following are the views of someone who does not claim to have the answers, nor do I claim to be right, but as a new teacher in the coming school year, I have some questions, and the effectiveness of a system can only be made better if we are able to discuss it openly. 

My first expereince with the local union was my first Para Professional position I held from March - June 2005.  When filling out my paperwork, I was told I had to signup for the union, and I had to pay them from my measly paycheck.  My question was simply "why?"

For the next few years after that, the unions that I have had to become a part of have been relatively quiet; working in the background, keeping the places I work safe and clean for me to do my job the best I can.  This is what I think a unnion should be; a big brother that tells the upperclassmen to leave me alone so I can concentrate on school and not getting my lunch money beaten out of me. 

I have found a couple articles about unions, because I didn't want to be completely shooting this post from the hip.  The first article is from the Economic Policy Institute, on "How unions help all workers."  This article points out how unions give all workers - union and nonunion - better fringe benefits, medical insurance, pensions, and base wages.  On this I will agree.  Fringe benefits like paid leave, and a secured pension are things that young and new teachers may not consider as important until after they should.  The article points out the incluence that unions have on helping nonunionized workers in the same industry.  However, this may not apply to education, because it is all unionized. 

The next article is on Education Oasis, and is simply called "On Unions and Education."  As far as I can tell, the author is illustrating how education unions are slowing the education reform process, and taking drastic changes out of the hands of radicals.  She explains how reformers are from far off of the frontlines of education; they deal with the theories and not the application.  She says how unions are necessary to reform because they give the teachers the voice needed to be heard. 

The last article is a short one on Change.org asking if unions deserve the bashing they receive.  I will let the author explain their thesis in their own words:

But lots of folks out there seem to think the problem with the achievement gap isn't the poverty, the broken families, the guns and drugs in the streets, the minimum wage laws that make an honest job a path to poverty, the overcrowded classrooms and underfunded schools, the low-quality teachers attracted by the low-paying teacher salaries, the junk food and junk culture in the great middle-to-low socio-economic swath of America.

Nope. They seem to think it's all the fault of teacher unions.

Is it possible that unions are being misunderstood in their fight for the equality of the grunt soldiers on the frontlines? 
Something esle that this article says about unions is, "So that's my prejudice: unions protect the working class from the owning class."  The idea of protection is a two-way street.  If I am being "protected" from the upper class, then the upperclass is, in turn, being protected from me.  How does this translate?  Unions are able to keep the middle-class from finding wealth, and by doing this, they keep the wealthy from finding the middle-class. 
Consider that an employer with a high demand for a particular position may be willing to pay more for the right person to fill that place.  The employee may get a signing bonus, and they will have high expectations placed on them to demonstrate that they deserve their bonus and new salary. 
Consider a veteran employee who is being surpassed by the rest of their team; they are not attending the conferences that the others are, and their skills are falling behind their peers.  They will be required to improve their skills and demonstrate that they are more qualified than those behind them in order to maintain their job. 
Consider someone who shows themself to be an invaluable asset to a company through their ambition and drive for success within their first year of employment.  What if someone with great potential was passed over because someone else happened to have been around longer than them, but may not be the best for the team? 
Take these situations, and impose a Teacher union into the equation and you have two scenarios I've experienced and one that I would like to experience - a bidding war.  My brother was able to negotiate from a temporaty contract position into the position he wanted because he had options, and because there was a demand for his skills and proven abilities.  I do not have that option.  An administrative team cannot add someone who will fit perfectly into their school's environment and collaborate with the learning team because someone with seniority decided that they wanted to work the position.  This doesn't sound right, and it sounds like Affirmative Action. 
Unions have their faults, and they have their advantages.  But the problem with a system that creates a wage floor, is that it also creates a wage ceiling.  So which is worse?  If I don't mind making the minimum, then why would I try to excel? 

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