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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Friday, December 30, 2005

Reality Bites

I've sat back for a couple of days and let people write responses and post comments regarding my post, "Winning Back the Public Mind." As a result, I think I've found the difference in philosophy between myself if I were a union leader, and those currently in charge.

It's become clear that the MTEA and its members have a very utopian vision of what things should be like in the schools (as they should, being that it's their main interest). Defenders of the current union strategy cite the way certain teachers would be valued in an ideal society and the benefits that would be given in a similar situation. However, this is not the society we live in.

We live in a society where a majority of workers, many with salaries lower than teachers, pay significant premiums for health insurance. We live in a society, where whether we like it or not, athletes and entertainers do make obnoxious amounts of income when compared with what they truly contribute to the common good. And we live in a society where union members are on a short leash in the eyes of the public, because they do have superior benefits to your average person. Do teachers work hard? In a majority of cases, yes. But when compared to my friend Jason the accountant, who makes only $5,000 more than I did in MPS, but who was on his 56th consectutive day of work when I spoke with him last April, definately not harder. Who when compared to the teachers I worked with at St. Charles alternative school, who made about $5000 less than I did in MPS, but who did not have summer, Christmas, or Spring Break off, definately not harder.

This is why the MTEA is failing as it tries to fry the bigger fish. The ordinary people who are charged with financing the salary and benefits of teachers are working very hard, and the teachers have not been able to give them a coherant arguement as to why they are entitled to a superior benfits package to the one they have. Do I wish that this society were different? Yes. I wish it were a society where the Union members were able to maintain their current compensation package without a vicious fight. But if the MTEA continues to bluntly fight for the big prize, when the citizens of Milwaukee who fund their compensation lose ground, they have no hope of being victorious.

My point in "Winning Back the Public Mind," is that the Union needs to take a step back, take a look at how their members are doing compared to "most" people in the community, and not just the rich entertainers, and then fight for things that will again put the public on their side. Before the Union tries to cook the big fish, it needs to catch a few small ones and build momentum.

The truth is, that the health-care package that the Union calls a disaster for its members isn't just the problem of its members. It's a problem in society; the problem of skyrocketing health-care costs without a real solution in sight. And until that problem is rectified on a national scale, the union is foolish to think that it can win on that front. But some of those other things I suggested, and no doubt many more not listed, were winnable battles. These were things the public would be in favor of for teachers, because they do not give the appearance that teachers are getting more than the average guy on the street. Quite frankly, had the Union's health-care package been approved, and even with the current plan, that appearance is in place.

Perhaps I'm too pragmatic, too conservative maybe, but I like to think the word "realist" comes to mind. In this case reality bites, and I'm of the opinion that if the Union wants to make real strides, it needs to step back from its most recent losses and regroup.

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