Unions must fear lost membership more than lost teacher tenure
Here's an article from John Kirtley's and Doug Tuthill's new blog, redefinED. It's written by Doug, a former teacher union president, and centers on a memo from the legislative director at the Florida Education Association distributed to the union's members before the governor's election in November, and it highlights the union's fears on what a Rick Scott victory would mean. The memo is quite brazen in the union's real fears of a loss of influence and market share that would result if Scott were elected, and Doug brings a unique perspective to its assumptions. Doug can be fairly provocative, and he promises to bring his insights regularly to what he hopes can be a model for a new unionism.
In the campaign's final hectic days, a get-out-the-vote memo to members from my friend Jeff Wright, FEA's director of public policy advocacy, helped explain the passion. He felt the same pressures I faced when I was a union president. To be a viable business, the union must maintain its membership base. Fewer members means less money and less clout.
"FEA is the only organization that has consistently fought back on stupid policies that do harm to students and to the people we represent," Jeff wrote. "If we are no longer strong due to reduction in the number of people served by public schools, then they can do what they want with the education budgets of today."
The flip side is that, when I was a union president, I knew that battles over tenure were great for business. That's because teacher unions are in the business of selling protection, and anything that causes teachers to experience more job-related fear or insecurity increases union membership. I could never say so publicly, but the elimination of tenure would mean the union contract would be the only protection teachers had. That's amounts to a full employment act for unions.
I had a similar attitude toward merit pay. Many teachers genuinely don't think it's possible to create a one-size-fits-all merit pay plan that is fair. Consequently merit pay proposals create fear and insecurity and also increase union membership.
What teacher unions do fear are publicly-funded education programs that operate outside their collective bargaining agreements.