Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Dancing Lemons

If you follow teachers unions long enough, one of the odder things you’ll notice is that almost as often as a teachers union sues for firing lousy employees, they sue for hiring other employees. We see the latest example of that in Detroit this morning, where the Detroit Federation of Teachers has sued to block the hiring of new teachers at 50-some Detroit schools. From the Detroit News:

Detroit Public Schools’ teachers union filed suit Wednesday, claiming the district didn’t comply with the collective bargaining agreement when hiring teachers this summer for priority schools.

The allegations of contract violations could impact the staffing choices particularly at 40 low-performing schools that had significant staff shake-ups this summer in effort to comply with state education reforms. The union is also challenging the hiring of the 20 to 30 Teach for America candidates. …

Johnson said the district hired teachers from outside the district for slots that should have been filled by qualified union teachers who were laid off. He also contends union leaders were not part of the selection committee, as agreed upon, and instead allowed the principals to make the hiring decisions. As a result, qualified teachers who wanted to remain at the priority schools were not hired back, Johnson said.

Emphasis mine. What you see here is the union pushing back because they want the waltz to continue. “The Dance of the Lemons” is a phrase you can expect to hear more of in the coming months; it refers to the practice of shuffling bad teachers from school to school due to the difficulty it takes to fire a poor educator. The LA Weekly had a good summary of the practice earlier this year:

Caprice Young, founder of the nonprofit California Charter Schools Association, was LAUSD school board president until 2003. She saw, behind closed doors, what the public can’t: the “dance of the lemons,” a term that broadly describes controversial tactics LAUSD utilizes to cope with tenured teachers who can’t teach but, under the current system, cannot be fired. Those tactics include not only paying them to leave, but quietly transferring bad teachers to other, unsuspecting schools or repeatedly and fruitlessly “retraining” them while they continue to teach, sometimes harming the educations of thousands of children.

This is why teachers sue so often when outsiders like excited, young grads from the Teach for America program are hired. Those spots should go to the problem educators, the union feels. They should go to teachers who don’t do a very good job and have been bounced from their previous school. Hopefully the music will stop soon.

Categories: Center for Union FactsTeachers Unions