I have a love/hate relationship with teacher unions. On the one hand, I hate it that, unlike other jobs, they negotiate my pay for me and use my money to pay for political posturing. On the other hand, I love it that they give me something to complain about.
As you probably know, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that public employees that don’t want to join unions don’t have to pay dues for things like collective bargaining and whatnot (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/27/us/politics/supreme-court-unions-organized-labor.html). Supporters of labor unions are very upset about this because it’s going to be harder to force people to give them money if there’s no legal reason compelling them to do so. Those who dislike unions are happy about this because they want to have the freedom to divide their workers in an effort to screw them over as effectively as possible.
In my mind, this decision has a lot of pluses for labor unions, employees, and the government. Let’s take a look at some of them:
- Teachers in high-demand areas can negotiate higher salaries. I always thought it kind of annoying that I, as a chemistry teacher, make the same amount of money as an English teacher. This isn’t to say that English teachers aren’t valuable (my favorite teachers in school were English teachers), but it does reflect the fact that there are an awful lot more English teachers than science or special ed teachers. Assuming that economics is a thing, it stands to reason that we can negotiate higher salaries.
- Teachers can still strike if they want to. Let’s say that the unions are halved in size. If they decide to go on strike for what they want, there’s nothing keeping other teachers from doing the same if they’re aggrieved by the same issue. Given that teacher strikes rarely last for long, I’d guess that most teachers wouldn’t want to cross picket lines manned by their colleagues.
- Labor unions will have more engaged members. I was never engaged in any labor unions because I resented the fact that they took my money and then did a lousy job standing up for my rights. If you cut the people like me out of the equation, you’ll end up with a leaner and meaner union that can more effectively mobilize its members.
- Union members will get better service by the unions. If the unions can’t compel people to join and/or give them money, they’ll have to work a little harder for their members to stay in business. I’ve seen members of teacher unions ignored when they contacted their union reps and believe they would have appreciated the improved customer service.
- Governments will save money. When there are unions to be paid, the money has to come from somewhere. And if the money comes from the teachers, you’ll need to pay the teachers more so they can afford their union dues and their mortgages. With fewer union members the government will be in a position where they can pay a bit less for the teachers while still giving them the same take-home pay.
- Teachers won’t have to support causes they dislike. If you look at the AFT website, you’ll see that they have a lot of ideas about how to improve American education. Though I agree with many of these points, I disagree with many others (among them our beloved Common Core). Additionally, teacher unions pay in the tens of millions of dollars per year to political causes and candidates that I may or may not support (note: the actual value is hard to come by, given that most of the sources citing numbers are decidedly unbiased). In the 2016 election cycle, teacher unions paid Democrats and the Clinton campaign [some large amount of money – see earlier comment]. Think of the Trump voters you know and ask yourself whether they’d be happy with this use of their money. Don’t ask them, though – I doubt the response you’d get would be particularly pleasant.
Ultimately, the big test of whether this works out won’t be in the courts but in school lunchrooms. If the unions are really as useful and responsive as we’re told, there shouldn’t really be any change in how things work. If the unions are really as corrupt and evil as we’re told by others, the unions will wither and die. My guess is that something in the middle of these two extremes will happen, and that the unions will end up smaller but sleeker in the long run. Perhaps not the outcome they would prefer, but not a disaster, either. Time, and future lawsuits, will tell.