Friday, March 18, 2011

The painful adjustment coming to unionized teachers

I'm in favor of Scott Walker's changes to collective bargaining and union dues collecting in Wisconsin. The process of "bargaining" between public employee unions and elected politicians is too dysfunctional to leave alone. The politicians are not bargaining with their own money. They have no reason to care whether the state will run out of money five, ten, twenty years down the road. More than likely they don't know enough about economics to understand the issues.

On the other hand, it's undeniable that these changes will cause pain to the public employees. My sister is a teacher in Wisconsin. She's worked as a teacher for 35 years, and will be retiring this year with a pension of 80% of her full salary and lifetime medical insurance. She's pretty upset with the hit to her family budget that these changes will cause--but I would consider myself beyond lucky to be able to retire with a deal like that, despite the fact that I've been working just as long as she has, except in private industry.

But there's more than one "tragedy" going on here. One is that she's a very bright and capable person, who was probably bored of teaching more than a decade ago. But the way the benefits are structured, it made no financial sense for her to even consider changing to another profession. Another profession where she might have been able to contribute even more to society as a whole than she did as a tired, aging teacher.

It's my personal belief that everyone would be better off if teachers hardly ever taught longer than ten or fifteen years. Hire people who spent 20 years in industry and have a hankering to teach young people. Hire young people who teach before moving on to some other occupation. Hire retired people. Whatever.

This model of hiring somebody just out of college who will teach for the rest of their career is...just nuts. It's not a good idea.

Then there's this retirement package that's the equivalent of having a couple of million dollars in the bank. I'm glad for my sister. But it really isn't fair that this special class of people in this country have it so easy when the rest of the country is making the hard, painful adjustments that happen when the economy goes down for the count.

We need more create destruction in education. (And government, too.) One of the reason that schools suck is that the mediocre find a home. The tired and bored hang on and don't leave. The fearful, the mismatched, the people who should never have been teachers cling to the job anyway. I've worked in companies where people have been fired, where people have been laid off. It's not fun. But strangely enough the employees usually manage to move on. Sometimes they find a job that's more suited to them. Sometimes they have to make painful adjustments. But that process is what makes the economy efficient and productive. Government/education is not efficient and productive, and it only becomes less so as time goes on.

I worked for the local university which is run very much in this non-private-sector, semi-socialist model. They pride themselves on being "nice". They have decent benefits and job security. But they cannot pay you what you are "worth". They pay based on seniority and "job category" and politics. So people who are ambitious or good, productive workers move on more quickly than people who prefer safety and easy jobs. From observing the result, I'm not at all convinced that the people end up any happier in the end. A lot of them have jobs that bore them, are not working to their full capacity, and are not living to their full potential.

It's my belief that in the long run most people are better off with a tad more creative destruction and a lot less nanny-state coddling.

1 comment:

  1. I have been cheering the events in Wisconsin. I have never understood the need for unions/collective bargaining for government office workers and teachers. Unions originated to protect laborers, the blue collar workers who worked in unsafe conditions with very little compensation. The Unions established safety protocols, as well as establishing pensions for high risk jobs, i.e., miners, iron workers, sawmills, etc. So why do government workers and teachers need unions????? To protect the lazy, unmotivated, and unqualified? I've worked in both union and non-union businesses. The non-union businesses produce much higher quality with consistency and in a timely manor. Those are things that I have never seen in a union business that I have worked in.

    Rant Over. LOL