2011-02-25 / Letters

Unions And The Middle Class

Dear Editor,

We are undergoing unrest in several states in America as budget shortfalls are being handled by governors who are throwing their weight behind busting unions to make ends meet. The key question here is, ‘Is this all about busting unions or is it about making ends meet? Yes, there are budget deficits all over the country. However, balancing budgets on the backs of hourly wage earners when billionaires need not chip in an extra sou is not playing well in what is left of middle class America. Whose idea was it to blow up the middle class, the hourly workers, the median wage earners whose only protection in the workplace is the union?

Certainly there are arguments against unions. Some unions became big businesses of their own working out of palatial buildings bought and paid for by their hourly workers. It wasn’t lost on these workers that their union hierarchy paraded around in their corporate jets, garnering huge salaries contributed by menial wage earners. However, not having any alternative for representation, union labor members were and are union supporters. In our “Let’s Blame the Unions for our Budget Problems” campaign we must ask ourselves who would most benefit from destroying unions? Let us not be naïve.

In several states in America governors appear to be taking the expedient way out to compensate for budget shortfalls by attempting to break the collective bargaining agreement, thus destroying unions. But, this easy route is also blatantly insincere as there have been no other signs of belt tightening to give the public any indication of “we’re all in this together.” Where is even the slightest evidence of willingness to compromise? Where is the demand for those government workers making over $150,000 throughout the country giving back five percent of their wages? This includes politicians as well as anyone else on federal, state and city payrolls. Where is the belt tightening by big business in terms of their rejecting tax concessions and incentives and plugging tax loopholes? Where is the penalty for each job outsourced by an American company? Where are the tax increases on the wealthy? Where is the incentive for the lowest on the rung of America’s workforce to give up the few gains they have made when the wealthiest among us get to keep it all making sure their status in society is secure by buying and paying for it?

Let us get this straight, who do these governors think should pay to balance their state budgets with their job security, lower wages, expanded hours, higher contributions to medical coverage and pensions? Is it the companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange? Never! Is it the small businesses who are not privileged to the loopholes big businesses have been enjoying for decades? Not them either!

New York City, a city that has more civil service workers than many states, is being inundated by TV commercials calling for the end of Last In First Out (LIFO) with regard to teachers, in effect, busting the union. It would be nice to know who is footing the bill for these uber expensive ads. One wonders if it isn’t the mayor, himself? As a point of information those commercials in which new teachers are called, ‘great,’ is insane. To believe that a teacher without multiple years under her belt could achieve greatness in the world of education is foolhardy. In reality, if given enough mentoring, most teachers can achieve a degree of quality that one would welcome to teach his child. However, development of great teachers (of which there are not that many) takes years. The greater problem with the TV commercial and with reality is who decides which teachers are great. Will it be the new chancellor?

LIFO is a joke when cultivating good teachers. Teachers need tenure, mentoring and nurturing so they can achieve a level of comfort from which a good quality teacher may emerge. LIFO is not about quality of teachers at all.

It is about salaries.

Let us look at the salary picture of a tenured teacher: A licensed teacher in NYC must have a master’s degree. How much does this degree cost? The answer is tens of thousands of dollars. In order for a teacher to achieve the highest level of pay, not only must she put in the time for her periodic raises, she must continue taking courses that equal sixty credits above her original degree. How expensive is this? You do the math. Yes. Teachers must spend a fortune to get to the point where they are making a decent living. They are the only publicly paid workers upon whom such demands are made. Thus, while tenured teachers are continually taking courses to improve their craft, LIFO advocates think they should be kicked out of the profession in which they have invested uncounted hours and money in favor of a neophyte straight out of college. Which is best for the pupils in our schools? Which is best for the city’s budget?

You be the judge.

It is odd how LIFO is not discussed in terms of the police or fire departments. Wonder why? Is this because a cop or fireman improves with experience? Then, why would the teachers’ union be sold out? The answer, here, is two-fold: the large number of rank and file members and the weakness of U.F.T. Just think, if our mayor didn’t swell the ranks of principals with their high salaries in his maniacal effort to break up the high school system as we knew it, our payroll would be considerably reduced. Just think, if overseers in government halted the practice of city workers building up their last years of overtime to beef up their pensions, our budget imbalance would be less. Just think, if all of those retired city workers who played the system escaping under the old loose rules played fairly, the conversation about unions and waste would not be as loud as it is today. Just think if teachers assigned to rubber rooms were not accommodated by ridiculous UFT contracts LIFO would not have any life at all. Compromises must be made.

Where are the solutions to the budget crises? Jobs must be eliminated by attrition and sanity must be returned to government spending. Civil service jobs cannot be compensated at the same rate as private sector jobs. Give-backs must be expected. But, these give-backs must start with the highest salaried government employees and work their way down. If governors and mayors are looking for the magic solution to our budget woes it is time they looked in the right place. In truth, if Congress members were more responsible with our tax dollars more fed tax dollars could be funneled to our states and cities as it should be. But, governors and mayors trying to balance state and city budgets on the backs of those on the lowest rung of government pay scales are eliminating jobs and dismembering the middle class and the unions simultaneously. This course of action is their form of bullying, un- American and wrong.

JOAN METTLER

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