Thursday, May 03, 2007

How to Report on Teachers Unions

A Teachers College produces a nice big Adobe file about how journalists should cover teachers unions. I suppose that makes as much sense as a Journalism School defining a curriculum to be taught. A wee bit o’ background courtesy of The Hechinger Institute.

From Contracts to Classrooms: Covering Teachers Unions: The notion that teachers should engage in collective bargaining – much less go on strike to get districts to meet their demands – was controversial. Resistance even came from the ranks of traditional organized labor. Champions of labor such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt argued that strikes by public workers were immoral. AFL-CIO President George Meany in 1959 even declared: “It is impossible to bargain collectively with government.”

The tension between the NEA’s “professionalism” and AFT’s “unionism” came to a head in 1961, when New York City teachers held a collective bargaining election. Essentially they were asked to choose whether to engage in collective bargaining. The vote, which came on the heels of a one-day strike by the 5,000-member United Federation of Teachers, came down decidedly in favor of bargaining a contract. Teachers in the city then overwhelmingly selected the UFT to be the official bargaining agent for all of the city’s teachers.

A year later, after the UFT struck over such bread and butter union issues as higher pay and free lunch periods for teachers, the union won the nation’s first major collective bargaining contract, including a $995 per year raise and a duty-free lunch period. In a profession undermined at the time by low pay and heavy-handed management, collective bargaining and teacher unionism took off like a rocket nationwide. By the end of the decade, even the NEA was forced to drop its longstanding resistance to collective bargaining and teacher strikes because the idea was so popular with teachers.

The rest, as they say, is history. “Critics charged that the teachers unions had used their clout to turn schools into job protection zones, rather than child education zones.” Yep, job protection is pretty much the key difference between professional associations and contract labor. H/T Labor Pains