Editor’s note: This is the second of four guest posts on the future of teachers unions.
by Joe Williams
When I was a cub reporter in my 20’s at a unionized (but open shop) newspaper in the Midwest, I waited about five years before I signed my union card and started paying dues to the Communications Workers of America. The delay wasn’t because I was cheap (though I was). It was out of principle: I had trouble supporting a union and a collective bargaining agreement which was at complete cross-purposes with my interests. I actually liked my job and wanted to keep it.
I was the youngest, least-senior reporter at a time in the early 1990’s when newspapers nationwide were just starting their cost-slashing death spirals, which meant I was watching colleagues take buyout after buyout, while position after position would subsequently go unfilled. The contract held that if there were layoffs, it was “Last In, First Out.” And rumors of layoffs were almost always in the air.
I understood the union had a job to do by representing the older folks who were worried that a cheaper (and perhaps more handsome) young worker might inch them out of a higher-paying job. But it just seemed stupid for me to pay dues to a union that was fighting hard to make sure I was going to be the chump who was teed-up to get tossed out onto the street. (After a few years, some new chumps came on board and I gave in to the argument that I had been a free-loader on the union contract for a long time.)
I mention this at the start of this post on the future of teacher unionism not because I want to hammer away at LIFO or the newspaper industry, but because I believe it is important to remember that self-interest is a pretty important factor in this discussion. Two considerations, in particular, are worth noting:
1. Teachers will continue to seek protection from teacher unions if they believe it is in their interest.
2. Unions will continue to operate using business models which are in the union’s interest.