Day 3 of the Teachers' Strike in East Greenwich, RI
~ Late-August 2007 ~

Labor unions were first formed to fight egregious exploitation of workers. I recently drove by Eldredge Elementary School in East Greenwich and saw several local members of the teachers union out picketing. They were casually dressed for summer and proudly brandishing their signs of protest. How far we have come.

The East Greenwich School Committee held a meeting a day or two later - a meeting attended by no less than two hundred people, of whom at least 90% were teachers. The committee allowed 15 minutes at the outset for public comment on the local strike. Several people stood to speak on behalf of the teachers:

  • "They're only asking for an average increase, in keeping with the private sector."
  • "Let's give the teachers what they want; they're marvelous people and do a terrific job for our kids."

Comments like these were greeted with thunderous and prolonged applause. When a few brave souls stood up to express different opinions, the clapping was brief and sparse, and in one case there were nasty catcalls and hissing from the pro-teacher crowd. That sort of representation at a school committee meeting shows just how powerful the teachers union really is.

According to union officials, they hoped to avoid this strike. If that's so, why are teacher contract deliberations routinely pressed hard up against Labor Day weekend and the start of the new school year? It seems the real point is to hold the impending school year over our collective heads when it comes time to bargain.

The teachers union wants "average" increases for its members. Let's see, teachers in EG make an average of over $50,000 for 180 days of work, and they pay between 5 and 10% of their health care costs. In the private sector, the average employee puts in 240 days and makes less - and they shoulder far more of their own health care costs. It looks like teachers get a pretty good deal.

Yet the union wants more, seemingly without any regard to the increased tax burden it would generate. "You can find the money," said one union-advocate. Is that so? And my real estate taxes went up double-digits last year. Like many other townspeople, that's a real hit for me, but as far as the union seems concerned, let's just keep the hits right on coming.

One catch phrase heard on the radio lately is "irreparable harm," as in contemplating when and if this situation will cause irreparable harm to the kids. I think it already has. Once they return to their classrooms, I wonder how many kids will be able to hold their teachers in quite the same regard, and how many will instead see a selfish decision? Quite a few, I should think.

One gentleman at the school committee meeting was brave enough to suggest that it's difficult for one party (the school committee) to negotiate an equitable deal with another party (the union) when the other party holds all the cards. That brought forth the aforementioned catcalls, and no one came to this man's defense. It sure looked like a stacked deck to me - QED, so to speak.

If I were a teacher, I might be doing some soul searching, wondering if my union was really acting in my best interests right now. I'd be looking at how good I have it relative to the private sector and thanking my lucky stars. Yes, once upon a time teachers were grossly undervalued, but thankfully those days are far behind us. We value our teachers what you do for the community, but we need you to understand the pressure you're putting on us by letting your union make demands that are unrealistic, and we hope you recognize the potential damage being done to the very children you care so much about.

Copyright 2007, NetScribe