Thursday, July 8, 2010

Obama, The Stimulus, & Teachers' Unions

As the states run out of money and the stimulus funds dry up, public sector unions are looking to Obama to bail them out. And Obama, of course, is trying to deliver.

I have, over the past few months, blogged extensively on the utter travesty of public sector unions and, in particular, how teachers' unions are not only an incredibly toxic parasite on society, but additionally stand as the single greatest impediment to improving our education system. See Public Sector Unions: A Toxin, A Crisis & An Opportunity and the related posts listed at the bottom thereof. I have also pointed out on numerous occasions the folly of Obama's $787 billion dollar stimulus package. Only 2.6% went to stimulate small business. Only 10.2% went to construction projects. The vast majority of the stimulus went to keep state and local public sector union employees in their jobs. While the private sector hemmoraged jobs, public sector employees last year suffered almost not at all. Obama is generous to a fault with our dime.

But as always with socialism, eventually, you run out of other people's money. And that is what is happening now. According to the USA Today, as the stimulus drys up and with revenues down, state and local governments are set to slash employment by "400,000 workers." The public sector unions, whose primary concerns are union dues and soaking taxpayers for all their worth ("show me the moe-ney"), are looking to Obama to step up to the plate on their behalf yet again. To wit, see this horror story from the WSJ:

The Obama administration is pressuring Congress to spend $23 billion to rehire the more than 100,000 teachers who have been laid off across the country. Before Congress succumbs, it should know about the unfolding fiasco in Milwaukee. Wisconsin is a microcosm of the union intransigence that's fueling the school funding crisis in so many cities and states and leading to so many pink slips. It also shows why a federal bailout is a mistake.

Because of declining tax collections and falling enrollment, Milwaukee's school board announced in June that 428 teachers were losing their jobs—including Megan Sampson, who was just awarded a teacher-of-the-year prize. Yet the teachers union, the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, had it within its power to avert almost all of the layoffs.

The average pay for a Milwaukee school teacher is $56,000, which is hardly excessive. Benefits are another matter. According to a new study by the MacIver Institute, a state think tank, the cost of health and pension benefits now exceeds $40,000 a year per teacher—bringing total compensation to $100,500.

The current health plan costs taxpayers $26,844 per family, compared to the typical $14,500 cost for a private employer family plan. The plan does not require teachers to pay any premiums toward the cost of the health plan—a situation that is all but extinct in private employment. In the spring, the school board offered a new health plan that would reduce costs to $17,172 per family. The plan would have saved money by requiring co-pays.

According to a budget analysis the MacIver Institute obtained from the Milwaukee public school system, shifting teachers to the plan offered by the school board could have saved $47.2 million. This would have prevented, according to the report, the lay offs of "approximately 480 teachers"—more than the number that ultimately lost their jobs. But when union officials were presented the option, they chose to allow their members to be dismissed.

Many Milwaukee teachers have been quoted in the local press complaining that union officials never offered them a choice to make health-care concessions, and many say they would have been willing to go with reduced benefits to avoid the firings. The school system superintendent, William Andrekopoulos, says he was "surprised" how uninterested the union was in negotiating a reasonable cut to prevent the firings.

So why were these teachers considered expendable by the people who are supposed to protect their jobs? This brings us back to Mr. Obama's $23 billion teacher bailout.

The Milwaukee Teachers Education Association was immovable on benefits in part because it placed a bet on its Democratic friends in Washington rushing to the rescue. "The problem must be addressed with a national solution, a federal stimulus package that will restore educator positions," Pat Omar, the union's executive director said in June. The union's strategy in recent weeks has been to stage rallies demanding a federal bailout, and it used hundreds of school kids at those rallies as political props.

Milwaukee's experience suggests that the $23 billion bailout fund is meant to provide a federal life raft to keep afloat the unsustainable, gold-plated compensation packages that unions negotiated when states and cities were flush with cash. The citizens of Wisconsin have rejected tax increases to avoid layoffs, and they're right to have done so.

It is hardly sensible to force taxpayers in Mississippi, Colorado, New Hampshire and elsewhere to step in and save the union's bacon. A federal bailout only further entrenches bad policies—especially unaffordable benefit packages—that led to the school funding crisis in the first place and leave every child behind.

This is par for the course for teachers unions and other public sector unions around the country. It is also beyond contention that Democrats will make every effort to keep these unions in power - and funded with taxpayer money - since they are the base of the Democratic Party. It is a travesty - as is the fact that this incestuous relationship goes virtually unreported in the MSM.


Debbie said...

You are right that the MSM doesn't bother to report on this, but they are supporters of the unions too.

Seems that the average hard working person is now working to support union members, so they can retire at 45 with full pay and benefits, or close to it. Something is very wrong.

Now we are seeing more taxes and even new taxes to help support this craziness.

Right Truth

OBloodyHell said...

"It's too late to fix it, and too early to hang anyone."

...But it's getting REAL CLOSE to the latter part.

OBloodyHell said...

> Milwaukee teachers have been quoted in the local press complaining that union officials never offered them a choice to make health-care concessions ...(snip)... The school system superintendent, William Andrekopoulos, says he was "surprised" how uninterested the union was in negotiating a reasonable cut to prevent the firings.

Well, here's part of the issue, too -- these officials need to be much more public about the bad faith these union goons are operating under. Had the superintendent been more forthcoming with this info, the teachers might have taken collective action to force their leadership to take the deal.

It's stuff like this that leads to the people turning on the teachers, as they did in New Jersey.

suek said...

A number of years ago, I was a local school board member. We had contract negotiations that got stuck, and health benefits were a big part of it. The cost was increasing significantly, and teachers were unwilling to pay any of it. Our negotiators had worked with the health insurance provider to offer the possibility of different plans that would permit savings, but still cover the teacher's needs. The person in charge arranged a series of meetings for the teachers to ask questions of the providers about possibilities. None of the teachers showed up. The president had told them not to...that we'd eventually be forced to give in and give them the same plan they'd had in the past.

The union president's attitude was quite clear - we told her we would be willing to give the teachers a bonus out of any unspent budgeted funds, but we didn't feel we had the funds to sign a commitment to pay and benefit increases. Her response was that she didn't care where we got the money from, but "just get it". I can tell you that the relationship between the board and the teachers deteriorated significantly during this period. No doubt it's a personal failing, but I found it difficult to be even civil when encountering one in the hall. And these were the people who were responsible for our children!

_NOT_ a happy situation.