Monday, February 28, 2011

Local school officials in Wisc. question savings from scaling back teachers' collective bargaining

The national debate over collective-bargaining rights started by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker may have begun on a flawed argument. "As massive demonstrations played out in Madison—an estimated 70,000 protesters came to the state Capitol one day this week—local school officials were questioning one of the core arguments behind the governor’s proposal: that it will help cash-strapped districts financially in the years ahead," Sean Cavanagh of Education Week reports. Some Wisconsin school district officials also worry that limiting collective bargaining to pay issues, ruling out working conditions, would ruin relationships between teachers and districts that have so far been relatively harmonious.

"We’ve never supported stripping all bargaining rights," said Miles Turner, the executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators. "This goes way too far." Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker "predicted that without making changes to public workers’ pensions, health insurance, and negotiating rights, state and local governments would have to lay off thousands of workers, including teachers," Cavanagh writes. Several officials representing school boards agreed pension and health care costs would go down under the governor's proposal, but overall savings, particularly ones resulting from changes to collective bargaining, are difficult predict.

Those officials say the cumulative amount of savings from the proposal "would almost certainly be insufficient to make up for anticipated cuts in state funding," Cavanagh writes. Dan Rossmiller, the director of government relations for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards said, "We don’t know how deep the state-aid cuts will be, but we think they’ll be deeper than we can make up" through the proposal. Turner added that overcoming potential losses in state funding "is going to be nearly impossible . . . without layoffs." (Read more)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The heated controversy over public employee collective bargaining is an indicator that something is amiss. What should be clear is that the fault does not lie with the unions, nor even with the right of such employees to collective bargaining, a right that exists throughout the private sector. But there is something wrong with the system. Let us look for a moment to see how the private sector works.

Samual Gompers, who founded the AFofL, was asked what he wanted for his members. His answer: ”More.” Let us take him as a qualified voice for those in both public and private workforces. Let us also allow that there may be a limit to how much “More”. The UAW wants More from Ford Motor, and they enter into collective bargaining. Ford management considers many factors, but chief among them must be, “how much more can we afford?” Should the UAW get too much, something’s gotta give. Return to stockholders, in the form of dividends or appreciation in stock values, is one place. Another, is in holding down labor costs through strategies such as automation. But at some point price increases are the last resort to cover increased hourly costs. What then? Maybe we all go buy Hondas.

But “we” can’t go elsewhere for firemen, policemen, teachers or all the others in the public sector, except to move to a lower tax state. Of course, many do just that. Then “we” have many roles: taxpayer, voter, public service customer. In the election of our government officials we delegate the types of decisions faced by corporate management. Perhaps there’s the rub.

Our government officials are either politicians, or controlled by politicians. They have power, and one of our oldest adages is that power corrupts. It’s to be expected. That corruption affects the collective bargaining in the public sector. How can we fix it?

Absent going elsewhere, we must find a way to make the officials more responsive to our wishes. They must negotiate labor costs more in line with what we feel is a fair price for services received, or we must move on to Hondaland. How can that be addressed?

My suggestion is to make labor contracts in the public sector expire at, or shortly after, elections. Then place on the ballot union demands and public officials’ best offers. We vote on which to adopt, and it becomes the basis for the contract. It’s returning the decision on these contracts to a referendum. Of course, we may not feel the official offer is acceptable. What the? Well, elsewhere on the ballot are the elected officials names. If we are dissatisfied, we have plenty of opportunity to change those too.

This might even improve the performance of the public sector workforce, along with improving the methods of delivering that performance.

Why not give it a try?