I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, March 18, 2012

How To Be a Clueless Teachers Union Leader

UPDATE: I am crossing out a paragraph below. I shouldn't be calling for anyone's resignation or firing on the basis of a single news story. Peterson may have his reasons, and they may be good ones. I may disagree with them, but that doesn't mean I know enough yet to say he should be fired. I apologize for jumping to that conclusion at this time.

If anyone has further information about this story, I am very curious about it. Leave comments below.

Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no.
Leaders of the Milwaukee teachers union are campaigning for members to sacrifice a week's worth of their pay to help reduce class sizes next year in Milwaukee Public Schools, if legislation allowing them a window of time to negotiate a salary reduction is signed by Gov. Scott Walker.
The MPS Children's Week Campaign, which will be discussed with the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association membership beginning Saturday, is asking educators to give up 2.6% of their salary next year, or about five days of pay, to allow for class-size relief.
The campaign also is poised to ask higher-paid MPS employees as well as community members and businesses in Milwaukee to consider contributing some of their wages or profits to a nonprofit district fund. The union will be discussing the proposal with teachers in a series of meetings starting Saturday, and the membership would vote on the proposal later this month, assuming that Walker, who supports the bill, signs it into law. [emphasis mine]
Oh, dear lord. Sweet, sweet lord. Where do I even begin?

Let's start with this:
As rising health insurance costs have eaten up most of the 3.8% total compensation target, teacher salaries in Wisconsin have stagnated and even declined. As a result, Wisconsin teacher salaries fell 6.8% from 1997-98 to 2007-08, when adjusted for inflation. For 2007-08, Wisconsin's teacher salaries ranked 21th in the nation at $49,051, down from 20th the year before, and below the national average of $52,308. [emphasis mine]
This comports with a large body of evidence that shows that, nationally, teachers are hardly overpaid. But let's leave that aside, and wrongly assume that teachers are raking it in, making - wow, is it possible?!? - high five-figures! With (unpaid) summers off! That's why Wisconsin is on a hole, right?

One of the most pernicious myths surrounding the Wisconsin budget showdown is Gov. Scott Walker's claim that the state is "broke," there is nothing to negotiate and the only solution is to mandate massive reductions in public employee compensation and to abolish their collective bargaining rights.
This is nonsense. Wisconsin has not gone into the red because of excessively generous pay and benefits negotiated by unions for state and local employees. Our deficit has grown because the Great Recession blew a hole in the state budget, as it did in virtually every state in the country.
Nor are excessively generous compensation packages for state employees holding back the recovery: Careful studies by the Economic Policy Institute as well as University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee economists Keith Bender and John Heywood show clearly that public-sector employees are less well-compensated than comparably educated and experienced private-sector workers in Wisconsin.
The reality, of course, is that Walker's plan is not the only way to fill the $137 million gap; it is a policy choice which, to borrow from Warren Buffett, represents "class warfare . . . but it's the rich class that's making war, and we're winning." Rather than attacking the living standards of middle class teachers, prison guards and health care workers, Wisconsin policy-makers can easily close this budgetary gap - and reduce surging inequality in the state - by temporarily raising taxes on the superwealthy and corporations. [emphasis mine]
Bur Walker did exactly the opposite; rather than taxing the folks that have the money, he gave them a big, fat gift:
One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross released the following statements regarding Gov. Scott Walker’s planned signing of the 2011-13 Wisconsin state budget on Sunday. Walker’s budget includes tax breaks for corporations and the rich that will cost the state of Wisconsin taxpayers $2.3 billion over the next decade. At the same time, they are raising taxes on the working poor by $70 million, dismantling public education by $1.6 billion and slashing the University of Wisconsin by $250 million. 
“Gov. Walker is not signing a budget bill, he is signing a document surrendering Wisconsin to Wall Street and the corporate special interests that bought his keys to the Governor’s mansion. This bill violates the values of the people of Wisconsin and is an attack on our children, our working families, our seniors and our vulnerable friends and neighborhoods. Gov. Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature’s idea of ‘shared sacrifice’ is to sacrifice the middle class so corporations can share our tax dollars. These are the wrong choices for Wisconsin. They will not create jobs. And they will drive our state in deep long-term debt.” [emphasis mine]

There's more on Walker's generosity to the wealthy here (and an accounting of the massive wealth accumulated by a small group of individuals in the state). In the mean time, public workers had already made a huge sacrifice for Wisconsin:
State employee unions made $100 million in concessions in December to ease the budgetary strain, said Bryan Kennedy, president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. But Walker's response has been "to eviscerate our most basic rights" and "end labor peace in Wisconsin."
In addition to all this, Milwaukee is home to one of the country's largest voucher programs; a program that does not get better results than the local schools, and takes $180 million out of the state and local budgets every year.

Let's review: the teachers are already modestly paid, their salaries did not cause the budget deficit, their unions agreed to big concessions, Walker gave big tax gifts to the wealthiest, there are plenty of super-rich folks in Wisconsin who could pay much more, and vouchers already suck plenty of money out of Milwaukee's schools.

And yet - in spite of all of this - the head of the teachers union wants teachers to give up a week's worth of pay... while the wealthy individuals and corporations of Milwaukee are meekly asked to "consider contributing some of their wages or profits."

Sweet, sweet lord. Is it Stockholm Syndrome? Is that it?

Let's get something straight: no one should be asking middle-class teachers to make a sacrifice before asking the very wealthiest to start paying their fair share. And don't hand me that crap about "job creators." Teachers are the ultimate job creators. Hell, that's what they keep telling us as they try to strip our workplace protections: "We have to compete for 21st Century jobs!" Well, you can't have it both ways: either we're important, or we aren't. If we are, stop asking us to take hit after hit after hit, and start demanding that the wealthiest people in this country step up and contribute.

It is insane that a union leader - a teachers union leader! - would acquiesce to the far-right frameworks of Scott Walker and the rest of the puppets of the 0.1%. No teacher should be asked to dig even further into her pocket unless and until the oligarchs who run this country start doing their patriotic duty and help pay for our society's basic needs. And union leaders should make this case over and over again; they should not be playing this game by the aristocrats' rules.

My brother and sister teachers in Milwaukee, listen to me now: you all need to go into the MTEA office tomorrow and demand the resignation of President Bob Peterson effective immediately. You and the children of Milwaukee deserve far, far better. [see above - JJ]

As for the rest of you union leaders - you need to look at this story and listen to the Jazzman:

We are in a war. These people want nothing less than to break the protections, pay, and benefits people fought and literally died for over the past century. Your members are counting on you to stand up for them and tell these people the truth.

The Great Recession is not our fault; if anything, it probably would have been worse were it not for us teachers and cops and firefighters and other public workers. The pensions and the benefits we earned are just that: earned. They aren't gifts, they aren't political kickbacks, and they sure as hell aren't what's bankrupting the country. We are middle-class, hard-working women and men who only ask for some small piece of the American Dream. We have always been willing to take less money in exchange for doing a job that we love - but we have families, and we will only be pushed so far.

Union leaders, you need to lead. It's really that simple.


Anonymous said...

See...lol....you just proved the problem with tenure. 500 words about teacher raises, and you don't seem to grok the fact that the taxpayers paying those increases are laid off and suffering from high unemployment and housing foreclosures.

Zero percent fed reserve money. You have a job you aren't losing ground in your standard of living.

Tenured teachers should be happy they have secure -- at least MUCH more secure -- jobs than most of the private sector right now.

PS: Durn those rascal teachers up in Milwaukeer worried about their students' quality of education and class size!!! Union-wise, that is soooo 2006....

Anonymous said...

Thank you for pointing out the GLARING amount of corporate and elitist welfare being dished out by these GOP governors at the expense of the people who are suffering the most in the lower income brackets. ALL of the children in WI are being made to pay for this welfare with less resources, fewer teachers, and a loss of services. Take away the corporate welfare and the schools and students will have a fighting chance at success again. This scenario can be written in every GOP-governor state. But you know, when the legislation is written by ALEC, it's so easy for them to get what they want.

Anonymous said...

lol...from the added note, looks like you got baseball batted back into union compliance, huh, Duke? :-)

Duke said...

Actually, I got an email from someone who knows Peterson, and for whom I have great respect. This emailer thought I was being unfair. On reflection, I am; at least, I am until I look into this further.

This emailer has no union ties as far as I know.

Regular readers to this blog know I have been critical of the NEA, AFT, and the NJEA before. Were I a union shill, would I have written this?


More later.

czarejs said...

@anon troll..... and you don't seem to grasp the fact that removing tenure won't stop layoffs and foreclosures. If you're concerned about those issues why don't you advocate for more worker protections instead of less?

Anonymous said...

Because "worker protections" Gone Wild are the reason America isn't competitive in so many areas. And you can't mandate companies who are struggling (or leaving) due to a crushing tax burden in New Jersey (single largest component -- teacher's salaries) to not slash their overhead as their product demand falls. Or you can, for some short period, and then they fail, and EVERYONE loses his job.

Except, of course tenured teachers.

C'mon, guys, this is first day of Economics 101 stuff.

czarejs said...

Lol you're a Funny troll. As worker salaries and benefits have dropped or stagnated over thirty years and union membership has declined, http://money.cnn.com/2011/02/16/news/economy/middle_class/index.htm
It's worker protections that have made us non-competitive? Please. Try again.
As for the teachers salaries....15 years experience and 15 years of excellent observations I make $64k with a family of four. Am I overpaid? If I am and the job is so easy anyone (even those scary "bad" teachers that are lurking under every reformers bed) can do it why haven't you jumped on in? You too could have all these wonderful perks.

Anonymous said...

Corporations get all kinds of sweetheart deals, tax breaks and tax abatements to locate in NJ. Therein lies the problem of corporations not paying their fair share in taxes. This loss in revenue has to be made up by the people.

Anonymous said...

"The people"? What is this 1917 Russia? What do you think corporations are, some sort of giant Transformer robot? They are jobs and taxes and people who work 50 weeks a year, 8 hours a day.