21 February 2011

On Wisconsin! On Wisconsin! Touchdown USA!

Let's talk about Madison, Wisconsin for a couple of minutes.

No, not as the home of Bucky Badger and the 5th quarter.  No, let's talk about Madison as the state capital of Wisconsin.

Madison is a nice town, full of somewhat lovely people. But I don't think you read the BlazeBlog for our insightful travel writing (coming next month, where to spend your Spring Break!) You read it to find my grammar mistakes. And to see what we have to say about education. That's why I want to talk about Madison. This week Madison has become a hot-bed for education discussion and debate.

Teachers, and other public sector employees, have turned out in droves this week in Madison, not to drink beer and eat cheddar, but to protest. They're protesting a bill proposed by the Governor Scott Walker (elected as a fiscal conservative) which would, he claims, "repair the budget of Wisconsin". In reality, his proposal wants to use the current economic woes, caused by tax-cut-and-spend Republicans, to take away the power of public employee unions to collectively bargain (except for wages). I don't know if you've seen the news, but the Democrats have actually left the state to prevent a vote on the bill. (here's a summary).

Now, if Governor Walker actually wants to solve the budget problem, and not just break the union, he would come to the table, since both the Democrats and public sector unions have said that they would take an 8% pay cut, along with increases in payments by their members to both health care costs and pension contributions, which would clearly help solve this crisis.

But Governor Walker doesn't actually want that. He wants to break the public sector unions. Now, I've said before that I don't love teachers' unions, especially when it comes to making it hard to fire bad teachers. But, I do strongly believe that public sector employees must have the power to collectively bargain for all aspects of their jobs, especially benefits.

Public sector employees are routinely better educated and more poorly paid than their counterparts in the private sector. They accept roles in society which are little respected, other than in political lip service. They do this for two reasons. First, they want to help. They are generally genuinely civic minded. They want to make the world a better place. Secondly, there is an unspoken bargain: less money, but good benefits and pensions. Delayed gratification, if you will. It's the same deal members of the armed forces strike with the federal government. Not the greatest pay, people shoot at you, but if you stay in long enough, a great retirement package, and free medical.

People like Governor Walker can't stomach this. They want less pay and less benefits. Oh sure, he says that he wants teachers to be well paid. In fact, a 30 second Google search turned up this quote from the Governor.
We will also create a new class of highly qualified, well-paid teachers who will be given the opportunity to advance in their career. These highly qualified teachers will be called on to mentor other teachers, while still devoting most of their time to classroom teaching.

Don't insult us, Governor Walker. Don't speak in code. You want a "new class" (non-unionized) of teachers. Of course, you want them to be well paid, but they'll have to negotiate everything else, right? I bet every year, they'll be told, "sorry, there just isn't money"; and without the power to negotiate other things, this new class of teachers will be powerless to actually change anything. They will in fact be bound to any plan which you propose. They will be doubtless be stuck with your George W. Bush inspired education philosophy.

Further, don't tell us you want teachers to be "highly paid". You don't. You want teachers to become independent contractors. You're a liar. You can lie to the electorate, they're pretty dumb. But teachers are more educated that the electorate. They are going to see through this. That's why they're at your statehouse. They're sick and tired of you, and the rest of the union-crushing right telling them that they are important, and valued, and then letting your actions reveal your actual feelings.

So, where does the BlazeBlog stand? In solidarity with the teachers of Wisconsin. Even as the state level unions encourage teachers to go back to the classroom tomorrow, we secretly hope they won't. By staying home, they demonstrate how important they are to society. This is about more than just one bill, this is about telling elected officials to back up their verbal support for public employees with action. This is about reminding society that we are all in this together, and that teachers are tired of being trod upon, simply because we choose to work with children and young adults instead of pursuing the almighty dollar.

This is about, as Aretha put it, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

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