Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

What’s all the excitement about?

Yesterday, the New Jersey Education Association breathlessly announced that they were holding a press conference today to announce a bold new plan that would streamline the process required to remove teachers from classrooms. Today, they revealed their plan. No, they’re not getting rid of tenure or making it easier to fire a bad teacher. Instead, they want to take tenure cases out of the courts and hand them to arbitrators.

Pardon me for being underwhelmed.

In theory, it’s not a terrible idea. The court system is by no means the ideal place to settle disputes between bosses who want to fire incompetent employees and incompetent employees who think that they deserve to have a job for life and shouldn’t be held accountable for their failures. In practice, however, arbitration is just as complicated, time-consuming, and expensive as using the court system. Remember the infamous “rubber rooms” in New York City? They came about because of the slow nature of arbitration proceedings. From the definitive New Yorker piece on rubber rooms:

When the bill for the arbitrator is added to the cost of the city’s lawyers and court reporters and the time spent in court by the principal and the assistant principal, Mohammed’s case will probably have cost the city and the state (which pays the arbitrator) about four hundred thousand dollars.

Nor is it by any means certain that, as a result of that investment, New York taxpayers will have to stop paying Mohammed’s salary, eighty-five thousand dollars a year. Arbitrators have so far proved reluctant to dismiss teachers for incompetence. Siegel, who is serving his second one-year term as an arbitrator and is paid fourteen hundred dollars for each day he works on a hearing, estimates that he has heard “maybe fifteen” cases. “Most of my decisions are compromises, such as fines,” he said. “So it’s hard to tell who won or lost.” Has he ever terminated anyone solely for incompetence? “I don’t think so,” he said. In fact, in the past two years arbitrators have terminated only two teachers for incompetence alone, and only six others in cases where, according to the Department of Education, the main charge was incompetence.

Klein’s explanation is that “most arbitrators are not inclined to dismiss a teacher, because they have to get approved again every year by the union, and the union keeps a scorecard.” (Weingarten denies that the union keeps a scorecard.)

This is the reform that the NJEA thinks is going to make all the difference in the world? The introduction of arbitrators? Either the NJEA is stupid or they think that we’re stupid. It’s no wonder that NJ Gov. Chris Christie has been running circles around them.

Categories: Center for Union FactsTeachers Unions