Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

A Visit to the Rubber Room

There’s something about New York City’s “rubber rooms” (where unionized teachers with tenure are paid not to work) that makes for an endless number of good stories. Previous examples we’ve written up include a teacher accused of making “Columbine-like threats”, a gentleman who allegedly can’t stop leering at girls leaving the restroom, and another with years of sex-based allegations to his name. Just this week, The Village Voice published a fascinating in-depth feature on life inside the rubber room. (Did you know that the city spends $33 million on salaries for rubber-room teachers, not including the cost of their investigators or substitutes?) It’s a good read — here’s an excerpt:

Teachers say they soon learn that their peers are territorial and often cranky. One young teacher serving his fifth month tells the Voice the first thing he was told by a supervisor was not to sit in seats claimed by others. Fights have broken out over less, he was told.

“It’s high school on steroids,” he says. “Or maybe a mixture between a minimum security prison and a senior home.”

To keep occupied, teachers read, play games like Scrabble or chess, or work on their screenplays. Art teachers work on paintings. Masters degrees get completed. Last year at the Seventh Avenue rubber room, a group of teachers taught each other to knit. Exercise is a popular activity.

Jeremy Garrett, a former teacher, has spent the last two years producing a film about rubber rooms by sneaking in cameras. He says he’s known some teachers who actually didn’t mind spending years doing little more than showing up every day for a paycheck. “There are people on the inside who are milking the system,” Garrett says. “You’d have to expect that, though.”

Garrett’s documentary is called “The Rubber Room”, and its website advertises that “sleeping in a sleeping bag,” “practicing karate on file cabinets,” and “running a small business” all occur within the rubber room’s confines. I’m sure the movie will be both hilarious and depressing.

(Hat tip: Mike Antonucci)

Categories: SEIU