The Annual Hostage Taking
The Annual Hostage Taking
It’s that time of year again. Parents are preparing to send their children back to school with new gear and new clothes, just in time for that OTHER time of the year…
The time of year when teachers’ unions try to hammer out a contract at the last minute in order to avoid a teachers’ strike.
It never fails. I have become convinced over the years that the union actually likes procrastinating until the last weeks of August to finish the contract negotiations because it gives them more leverage against the school district. Until recently, the burden of bad press of a teachers’ strike always fell upon the mean and greedy school district, which, of course, never pays teachers enough. With the advent of new media, unions are finding it harder and harder to continually blame school districts when the same strong-arm tactics are used all across America.
And as a result of what has become an annual hostage-taking, parents and children are caught in the middle.
Near where I live, the Seattle School District has just announced that an agreement has been reached with the teachers’ union. A formal vote will be held Tuesday afternoon, with school due to start Wednesday morning. Of course, with the union’s blessing, this vote is just a formality, but the sheer arrogance of waiting until the last minute speaks to their belief that their desire to get the best deal is best gotten with the looming threat of that first bell hanging over the district’s head.
However, a little bit further away, the South Kitsap School District is bracing for a strike. In Washington state, public employees cannot legally go on strike, but that has never stopped a teachers’ union from doing so, and the districts have been too timid and nervous to try and force an injunction on a union to get teachers back into the classroom. It is a delicate tightrope. The district needs to be on good terms with the union, because the union works from a position of strength. Teachers can almost never be fired, as we have learned countless times when teachers have broken the law and still can’t be fired, or they negotiate a payout to not challenge their firing. And if teachers strike, they never lose a day’s pay. Schools will still have 180 days of instruction, no matter when it starts. Yes, it might be inconvenient to be in school until July 5th – as happened to me when I was in second grade – but teachers will still be paid for every day that they teach.
We can argue all day long about how much a teacher should be paid, how they should be evaluated, how much time they get to plan during the school week, and what should be in their compensation package. But no union can give one good compelling reason why it benefits students – who the union claims benefits from all of their hard work – to wait to finish up contract negotiations at the end of August. It benefits no one but the union to wait until the last minute, when parents and students are waiting for the first day of school, and waiting to hear if all of their plans are going to be upended.
The unions are holding families hostage because they can. And nothing is going to change unless teachers demand that their union represent them fairly and not hold schedules in the lurch until the last minute, parents demand that both sides work in good faith, or parents choose to opt out of the system altogether.