Again wild pundits have us drowning in a sea of irrelevance as they yell about the Wisconsin union protests. What is occurring in the media with regard to Wisconsin is one of the most amazing propaganda drives ever.
Many people are under the impression that the teachers are protesting to keep their salaries and making financial demands on a strained state budget. If your news source failed to report that the teachers' union already agreed to the increases in their health care and retirement contributions, then you are listening to propaganda and need to choose a new source for your news.
The union in Wisconsin has helped maintain the second best educational system in the nation, the second highest SAT scores and been willing to accept a reduction in take home pay. The governor's budget cuts taxes on large corporations equivalent to what will be saved by hiking the teachers' contributions. Wisconsin may benefit more from the tax cuts than continuing to attract the teachers that have made them an educational powerhouse. However, the cuts leave us questioning if balancing the budget really is the governor's first priority.
The point remains the teachers agreed to benefit reductions. So why are they protesting? Perhaps you've heard they want to keep their collective bargaining to protect their "extravagant" wages. No, the governor's proposal to eliminate collective bargaining doesn't include wages. Even if his proposal passes, teachers' wages would still be collectively bargained.
The governor is going after the teachers sideways. The bill would stop direct withdrawal of union dues from teachers' paychecks. That would equate into a severe financial blow to the unions. This bill had absolutely nothing to do with balancing the budget it was an indirect attempt to gut the unions. With the unions out of the way, he could gut public education.
Do we need teachers unions? Well, in Georgia teachers only have professional associations. They can neither strike nor collectively bargain. In education we rank 46th. States with teachers' unions rank in the top 10. Of course, that alone is not reason enough to support unions.
What would happen if the governor of Wisconsin had his way and the union was gutted? The law of unintended consequences will strike. Most teachers get their liability protection through a union or professional association. Teachers are often sued, but being sued is not something one thinks about until it happens. Without their dues being direct-deposited, large numbers of teachers would go without liability insurance.
So what do we care if a few teachers lose out because they weren't smart enough to get liability insurance? Well, how many people are going to want to become teachers when they start hearing about teachers losing their homes due to frivolous lawsuits?
One common belief is that it is impossible to fire teachers due to unions and lobbying influence. The only thing necessary to fire a teacher in most states is documentation that they are not doing their job. It might take a year to get rid of a bad teacher, but it can be done.
Even unionized teachers can be terminated if there is a reduction in force. They just can't be fired without due cause. Still, maybe it should be easier to fire teachers.
People become teachers because they want to educate the future. However, to keep teaching, people need to make a reasonable living. Who would want a career where they could be fired on the spot without cause? How can we attract teachers proficient in math and science from the corporate market where they can make more if we don't offer them job stability and at least the right to due process before termination?
Who is willing to go through all the training to be a teacher only to have the job stability of a fry cook? What good is the ability to fire bad teachers if we can't attract good ones?
Should government employees have unions? Why should someone's right to organize and lobby end if they accept government employment? Unions also produce higher-quality employees. Don't we want quality employees? Corporations have no limit on the amount of money they can spend on political advertising. Why silence any group of workers?
Perhaps most importantly, shouldn't the government hear from the people with knowledge and experience? Would we rather have our leaders guessing at good policy or asking those with experience? States that listen to their teachers' unions have schools continually outperforming those that don't.
To reiterate, the union in Wisconsin has helped maintain the second best educational system in the nation, but willing to accept a reduction in take-home pay. In response, unscrupulous politicians are trying to deprive them of their membership dues. Adding insult to injury, when the union protested, unscrupulous politicians with the assistance of an unethical subset of the news industry mounted a campaign of misinformation against them.
Think what you will of unions. There are plenty of reasons to dislike some of them, but to vilify any group with lies is unacceptable. Sadly, for some, lying is just politics as usual.
Brandon Givens is a Gainesville resident and a special-education teacher. His columns appear regularly and on gainesvilletimes.com.