My wife was a third grade teacher. My father was an elementary school Principal and my mom was a school secretary. In my family, “teaching” was the second most prestigious career-choice. (A doctor, of course was first ).
In 1963, New York City was embroiled in one of those polarizing debates that we are famous for. Out of our 6 million residents, at least 5 million must have been lawyers. Unbelievably, union organizers were approaching every teacher in every school, trying to persuade them to join the new teacher’s union. Many old timers, like my father, thought this was pure heresy. Unionizing teachers never had been tried on such a grand scale before. He never thought that educators and unions could ever coexist.
But in 1963, the teacher’s financial plight could not be ignored anymore. My wife’s starting salary was a “whopping” $4,900 dollars per year! That’s not a misprint. It’s per year! But joining a union to rectify the problem was clearly something that most teachers couldn’t accept either. Discussions resonated in every teacher’s cafeteria. “Teachers are not teamsters.” But, “We just can’t live on that ridiculous salary anymore.” In the end, my wife voted to join the union. My father never accepted it.
Albert Shankar, and his newly formed, United Federation of Teachers (UFT) clearly won the day. The rest is history.
In the 1980’s, I was elected President of Great Neck North High School’s PTA (Long Island). Surely we had a few “losers.” But the great majority of our staff at “North,” were a special group of bright, devoted, professional teachers and administrators. Now, so many years later, I can’t help but watch in total disbelief as some teachers, certainly not all of them, have succumbed to that stereotypical “union mentality” they seem intent on
protecting incompetent teachers by refusing to examine and publicize teacher evaluations,
- acting so unprofessionally,
- (Remember Madison, Wisconsin?) And
- ot understanding that some of their previously negotiated labor contracts containing unsustainable healthcare, retirement and cost of living packages, are just not sustainable in today’s economy
The teacher’s union has really changed during the past 50 years.
The Albany Times-Union uncovered the following:
- From a small, humble beginning, the New York State Teachers Union has grown into a 600,000 member powerhouse.
- This year alone, they spent $30 million dollars more than they collected in dues and have become NYS’s most powerful lobbyist.
- The union itself employs 500 employees. 250 of them earn more than $100,000 a year. Fifteen union employees earn more than $200,000 per year. Richard Iannuzzi’s, the union President, makes more than $350,000
- The union is taking in 10% more in dues since 2008, even though it has lost 35,000 state teaching jobs
This is the same union that:
- is suing to overturn Governor Cuomo’s 2% tax cap, not showing any sympathy for the struggling taxpayers.
- they are fighting any attempt to create a meaningful teacher evaluation system which could finally remove incompetent teachers from the classroom and make available to the parents the exact competency of their own child’s teacher.
Teacher’s unions are in a very difficult position. Their main responsibility is to negotiate the best contracts for their members. We all realize that good salaries must be offered in order to attract the best and most talented teachers. However, when their benefit packages far exceed those in the private sector and are just not affordable in today’s economy, they certainly must be reexamined
However, the blame for these extravagant and unsustainable agreements rests solely on the shoulders of the school boards and politicians who agreed to them in the first place, not on the unions who were just “doing their job.”
Recently, two educationally related issues caught my eye:
- Did any of you know that the teacher’s union actually runs a NYC school? Well, they do. It’s the UFT Charter School in East New York, Brooklyn, Amazingly, it is about to be shut down by SUNY’s Board of Trustees because of serious academic, financial, and management failures. The lesson learned? Teacher’s should stick to teaching. Also it probably wasn’t such a good idea for the UFT to close the school to celebrate Jimmy Hoffa’s birthday! (Just kidding!)
- And for those of you who still think the the present tenure system really works, a newly released study found that in the last 8 years, 11% of all NYC Principals did not rate one single teacher unsatisfactory. My father must be turning over in his grave because this included schools that have received low marks by NYC.
The teacher’s union should fight for their members and perhaps even advise us on certain educational Issues. But, we should never think that they represent the taxpayers who actually pay their salaries