Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Unions and Great Pay for Great Teachers

School reform blogger Whitney Tilson recently sent around a reflection by a friend who helped found a charter school and sits on its board. The writer shares his own experience to argue that it’s very important to pay good teachers good money, and to argue that teachers unions are all too often on the wrong side of this fight. It’s not available online yet, so here’s the note in full (emphasis added in italics to highlight an especially ironic point):

I think the right way to frame the teacher pay issue is that great teachers are woefully underpaid and mediocre teachers are way overpaid.We would all be happy to pay more if it meant our kids would get better instruction.

The great thing about competition and charter schools is that it raises the pressure on schools to pay a premium (through pay, benefits and conditions) to attract the best teachers to their schools and into the profession. I know that at our charter school we already pay more to attract teachers than the union contract demands, and this year we are raising that further. And to attract a great principal we had to outbid another school, pushing up her salary by 40%! (well-deserved, by the way)

Here is the biggest irony of all: once schools can fire their bad teachers, it is going to create a severe shortage of good teachers, and salaries will ramp up naturally as bidding wars for talent erupt. Principals and superintendents will be under pressure to use technology better and to cut bureaucracy and overhead so they can afford to pay up for the best teachers. Mayors won’t be fighting the demands of teachers unions – they will be voluntarily spending more to compete. I see this beginning to happen already at the charter school level.

It turns out that the net effect of unions has been to put a cap on the compensation for great teachers! I look forward to the day (coming soon) when schools are bidding feverishly for great talent the way software companies and investment banks do today.

The Center for Union Facts hasn’t stopped beating this drum, either. Click here to see an op-ed we published in The Orange County Register detailing how unions have held back great teachers.

Categories: AFL-CIO