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Unions: Pivotal to America’s Future

September 5, 2011

Excellent article in the Sacramento Bee about how important unions are, or more accurately now – were, to a middle class wage.  I am not going to post the whole thing you can take the link to read it all which I recommend you do, but here are a few key passages:

An emerging danger is a “lost generation” scarred by the hopelessness and despair of extended job loss. One-third of the unemployed have been out of work for a year or more. And a new study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation indicates that more than one-third of California children are in families where no parent has a full-time, year-round job.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest Americans are reliving the Gilded Age. The top 10 percent, according to UC Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, sucked up 98 percent of income gains over the last three decades, leaving 2 percent for everyone else. The image that comes to mind is John D. Rockefeller handing out dimes in 1910 to the less fortunate.

If we didn’t have unions today, we’d have to invent them. Unions have fought for dignity on the job and a decent life off the job, paving the road to the middle class for millions of families. They have been the voice of working Americans – members and nonmembers alike – on issues from extended unemployment benefits to Medicare.

“You don’t have to love unions,” Paul Krugman wrote, “to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy.”

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie reportedly told an audience at a Boys and Girls Club that schools were short of supplies because of greedy teachers and unions. And he followed by saying that if teachers really valued learning they would have skipped the union’s state convention where they were “having a party.”

This bozo is a plight on the state where I was born and raised and still have a lot of love for.

Educational historian Diane Ravitch points out that this logic ignores “globalization or deindustrialization or poverty” let alone “predatory financial practices” as contributing factors to poor school performance, but instead places the blame squarely on “the public schools, their teachers and their unions.”

If unions are at the root of failure, how then do we explain so many poor schools in right-to-work states where unions are weak or nonexistent? And the overwhelming problem in the 89,000-teacher New York City school system is how to inspire and retain good teachers, not how to unload the few bad ones. Forty percent leave after three years while less than 1 percent wound up in the notorious, though now-defunct, “rubber rooms” where teachers were paid to sit, and not all for just cause. Administrators can be as petty, partisan, overbearing and mistaken as the rest of us.

What’s wrong with eviscerating collective bargaining? Listen to Courtney Johnson, a middle school teacher from a small town in Ohio. “The simple fact is that teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions,” she told a congressional committee earlier this year on her first trip to Washington, D.C. “We need to have a voice at the table so that we can speak up for what we know our students need.” Absent this presence, she continued, “our first-hand, real-world experience is not at the table, and our students are the ones who will lose.”


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