Rick Scott will be inaugurated as Florida’s 45th governor in just eight days, following one of the nation’s closest gubernatorial races, and it is worth reflecting on what drove the Florida Education Association to call it “the most important election of our lifetime.” Those who think efforts to reduce tenure and increase merit pay are what will break the unions are missing the most important business ingredient here – market share.
FEA’s preferred candidate for governor, state CFO Alex Sink, lost by only 1.2 percentage points in a Republican landslide that saw the other four statewide Democrats lose by an average of 19 points. In the campaign’s final hectic days, a get-out-the-vote memo to members from my friend Jeff Wright, FEA’s director of public policy advocacy, helped explain the passion. He felt the same pressures I faced when I was a union president. To be a viable business, the union must maintain its membership base. Fewer members means less money and less clout.
“FEA is the only organization that has consistently fought back on stupid policies that do harm to students and to the people we represent,” Jeff wrote. “If we are no longer strong due to reduction in the number of people served by public schools, then they can do what they want with the education budgets of today.”
The flip side is that, when I was a union president, I knew that battles over tenure were great for business. That’s because teacher unions are in the business of selling protection, and anything that causes teachers to experience more job-related fear or insecurity increases union membership. I could never say so publicly, but the elimination of tenure would mean the union contract would be the only protection teachers had. That’s amounts to a full employment act for unions.