Eduscuffle

There is an eduscuffle between Joe Williams and AFTie Ed. In reference to a possible teacher strike in NYC Joe asked:

For those elected officials who still think a bunch of political ads aimed at grownups are “too mean,” what do you make of job actions aimed at kids who desperately need every ounce of education we can give them?

AFTie Ed then responded:

Joe, it is dishonest to frame a labor-management dispute as a conflict between service providers and the recipients of those services. That’s management’s way of using the people receiving the services as hostages.

Enlightened AFTies, help me understand this. Seems to me this is basically exactly that kind of dispute. Schools (using teachers) provide a service that people receive and that we are all stakeholders in since it’s a public service, no? The disputed issue is at its core the question of what it is fair and/or possible to pay for that service. Sure, the kids are caught in the middle but, specific demands notwithstanding, are no more “hostages” of labor than management. Seems like AFTie Ed, whose posts I usually enjoy reading, is falling into the trap of (a) neglecting to engage with the very real differences between unionization in the public and private sectors and (b) assuming that the teachers’ union position on any of these questions is axiomatically the correct and right one and that criticism is inherently wrong or dishonest. On the latter, don’t we already have enthusiastic eduflack AFTie John to beat that drum?

Joe responds here.

Update: AFTie Ed responds. Read it for yourself. What’s interesting, and telling, is his contention about the public – private issue. He frames it as an issue about perceived greed from private sector unions which is reasonably easily refuted. That’s a smart stance for the teachers’ unions to take because it blurs the issues. Unfortunately, it completely ignores the serious distinctions.

In the private sector, organized labor gives workers collective leverage against management and in the negotiation process each are free to work their wills as best they can. In other words both serve as a check on the other and while not perfect in the particulars, in general it’s a healthy system and one reason that pretty much across the Democratic Party private sector unions enjoy a great deal of support.

In the public sector, by contrast, management and labor do not operate as largely unfettered checks on one another because labor can influence management a great deal through politics. In other words, while the UAW doesn’t get to choose the management of the car companies, teachers’ unions do get to exert great influence over who their management is through the political and electoral process and they get to influence many of the key rules of the game as well. In addition, while in the private sector businesses can relocate elsewhere, providing another healthy check on the process, the public schools in say, Philadelphia, can’t just up and move to North Carolina. And, similarly, while the threat of bankruptcy, which ultimately hurts both management and labor, curbs excesses in the private sector, the public schools cannot go bankrupt and must open and operate. Those are real differences in the context in which public and private sector unions operate.

It’s not an argument for or against public sector unions in general or teachers’ unions in particular. But it is an argument for recognizing that, contra AFTie Ed’s romantic notion that, “you can’t look at labor’s battles in the public sector as being isolated from our broader fight,” in fact, yes you can, and what’ s worrisome for the teachers’ unions is that even some private sector unionists are starting to…

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