Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

LA Times: The Teachers Union Must Change

Labeling the union “the most regressive force in the L.A. Unified School District,” the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times challenged the United Teachers Los Angeles to mend its ways in a stinging editorial last week. Facing its loss of control over the city’s school board, the union is in a good position to do some soul-searching. There’s a lot to do, the Times writes:

The leadership of the union is out of sync with the realities of modern education and the priorities of many of its members. The post-World War II system of tenure, rigid work rules and budget-breaking pensions have stultified schools. Today’s young teachers are more interested in good wages, upward mobility and affordable housing than in lifetime sinecures and fat retirement packages.

Tenure’s certainly an issue in L.A.’s public schools: a 2005 Times article reported that between 1996 and 2005, only a mere 112 tenured teachers were even considered for termination. That’s not 112 a year, that’s 112 a decade — out of a workforce of 43,000. And as for paying teachers according to their performance (and not seniority), UTLA’s president told the Times (as reported in a February 24, 2000 article) that merit pay would happen on a “cold day in hell”.

The Times editorial goes on to sketch out just how the union can begin to redeem itself:

They can start by not only approving, but endorsing, the Green Dot takeover of Locke High School. Last week, a majority of tenured teachers at the low-performing school signed a petition favoring the move — thus showing that they are perfectly willing to loosen work rules and toss tenure out the classroom window if it means a safer and more vibrant campus.

Green Dot’s charter schools are in fact unionized, but not with the UTLA. Instead, the schools’ teachers work under a union contract that includes the following policies: “teachers have explicit say in school policy and curriculum; no tenure or seniority preference; a professional work day rather than defined minutes; and flexibility to adjust the contract in critical areas over time.”

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