Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Talking a Big Game

Randi Weingarten has been making the rounds over the last couple of weeks, traveling the country in search of editorial boards and townhalls to talk to. Being a charming individual, she invariably comes off as reasonable; the standard response usually sounds something like this one from William McKenzie at the Dallas Morning News:

Before we get into details here, let me say that I found Weingarten an open, smart and energetic leader. Readers of this blog would know that I probably wouldn’t qualify as a teacher’s union guy, so I say that as someone who’s usually opposed to her in some fundamental ways. But she lacked the in-your-face quality that too many folks have in big debates, whether in education, foreign policy or health care. She’s informed, passionate and engaging. But she’s not dismissive, condescending or arrogant. Or at least that’s my reading, and, to me, that style goes a long way in today’s super-charged world.

McKenzie’s response isn’t terribly surprising. In person, Weingarten can come across as likable and passionate about education. It’s simply too bad that her actions have failed to match her rhetoric. On the one hand she talks about the need for reform, as she does in her pan of Waiting for Superman; on the other, she lambastes the LA Times for daring to release information about teacher effectiveness. On the one hand she charms William McKenzie; on the other, she fails to do anything while an AFT-affiliated teachers union in New York City fights to keep unemployed teachers on the payroll at a cost of $100+ million dollars to the city’s taxpayers. On the one hand, she admits that there are bad teachers; on the other, efforts to hold them accountable, as Washington, D.C., recently did, are met with threats of lawsuits.

I’ve brought Weingarten’s actions up before, but they’re worth highlighting again. Teachers unions aren’t going to be reliable partners for reform until their leadership begins to couple their big talk with big actions. I wouldn’t hold my breath on this happening anytime soon: Teachers unions have no real incentive to clear poor teachers out of the classroom, since they pay the same dues as everyone else. Unions would rather have small class sizes with more teachers (and, hence, more dues revenue to spend on election campaigns) than larger class sizes with fewer, better, more highly paid teachers.

Categories: Center for Union FactsTeachers Unions