Someone asked what we felt about the negotiations with the teachers. We’ve been critical of the union’s stance about not writing letters of recommendation – but we’ve largely avoided talking about the negotiations in general. We have, however, made some critical comments on the teachers union’s strategy to keep their current retirement package.
Today, we are going talk to that issue – the strategy employed by the teachers union to try and retain their current retirement package.
I feel the teacher’s union has botched their message – really badly. Here’s why:
- Not writing letters of recommendation was plain stupid. Really stupid. It just angered people and obscured the real message teachers needed to get out to the public.
- Going on TV and doing interviews only made them look like they were whiners.
- Facts posted on the union’s website about negotiations were a terribly organized. Their message was poorly articulated. I was amazed at the fact that such educated people couldn’t organize their arguments into one well-thought out and presented document. (These have been updated so they are better organized and presented – but even now it’s a poor mixture of web pages and PDF files.)
- Engaging in a tit-for-tat sequence with the board only makes them look like a bunch of 2nd graders.
- In one of the most glaring mistakes, the teachers union seems to act as if there is no economic crisis in the district. Not once have they said, “We know these are difficult times.” It’s always been about them getting their money. Teacher salaries account for 75% or more of the school budget. With us facing a large deficit, they act like nothing should affect them. The district is trying to put controls on costs that are unpredictable – in this case, insurance, and the special retirement payouts. People understand that. But they don’t care or understand when teachers say things like, “I can’t retire when I had planned”. Most people are replying, “Welcome to the real world.” This is probably not fair – but it’s the reality.
- The union seems to be throwing tactic after tactic to try and get people riled up about their predicament, making their message disjointed and confusing. The first was to alarm parents with the ‘working to contract’ action. Then they went on TV and talked about how the board’s proposal was screwing them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then they posted things on the website showing how poorly they are paid compared to other teachers. Then they talked about how the district will lose quality teachers because of the bad pay. Then they say the teachers were promised these benefits. Then they post more information trying to justify TEP, as well as posts that essentially calls the board liars. And the whole not writing letters of recommendation is mixed into this mishmash. When the head of the teachers union talks to reporters and says, “It’s not our intention to take it out on the students” you’re only shooting yourself in the foot.
The teachers union screwed up because they NEED people calling and writing the district demanding that they be treated fairly. That just isn’t happening enough. In fact, the opposite is occurring. People are writing the district and saying, ‘Hang tough.’ It’s only emboldened the school district to keep pushing this issue.
In fact, the school board members can sit back and dig in. The worst case scenario is things go to arbitration and they lose. They can say we tried, but blame the teachers union. And when the board cuts teacher positions for 2011-12, they can say, ‘blame the union’.
These, I stress, are my opinions on how the teachers union has handled the negotiations. Not my feelings on what they deserve or if I think they’ve been treated badly.
I will say that teachers union is in a tough spot. The negotiations have been going on for a long time, and their decisions were probably not done without some serious thought. Maybe they felt that ‘going public’ was the only way they could get the board to give in to their demands. After all, they’d been doing these negotiations for more than a year. Drawing attention to the negotiations, they may feel, is the only way to draw sympathy to their plight.
The problem with going public is that you have to be prepared. And I don’t think the union was prepared. They needed a clear and concise message. And then, in respect to these economic times, they needed to present that message to the public with humility and restraint. None of that has occurred.
I don’t know if the union can do anything now. If they feel their current salary structure and retirement benefits are in line with the rest of the area school districts, they will probably say, ‘take it arbitration.’ But if they are afraid they will lose – and deep down, I think they are very afraid of this – they need to come to the table with alternatives. They probably need to compromise on TEP in some form. They should accept this fact, then come back with a proposal to raise the salaries of teachers to get them more inline with those in our area. Maybe this means different salary structures for new and existing teachers.
I will add that, maybe the union has done this. If so, they’ve done a poor job letting the public know. Instead, they go on TV and complain that the district wants to take away their retirement benefits without anything in return. Don’t just complain about – offer alternatives. Say to the board – and the public – ‘here’s a way we can solve this’.
Would something like that work? We have no clue. But no seems to be sharing any such options – on either side of the negotiating tables.