Recently in Ogden, public school teachers had their right to participate in collective bargaining ripped away from them by their school board — and now Utah GOP lawmaker, Sen. Howard Stephenson (R-Draper) is considering whether the state should ban collective bargaining for all public employees, such as teachers, police officers, firefighters, state workers and city and county employees.
I was recently asked how I felt about the decision made by the Ogden School Board to eliminate educators’ collective bargaining rights by an associate. Before answering I asked him, “What do you think?” My friend answered, “We need to get rid of all the bad teachers.”
As much as I appreciate my friend and his point of view I cannot concur with his statement. Anyone who understands Utah’s public education system knows that we are fortunate to have the dedicated people we do teaching our children.
It has been my experience that the educators who have taught my children have different talents, but each one has added to my children’s life experience. I sometimes wonder why anyone would want to make a career of teaching in public schools with the disrespect public school educators have received from Tea Party legislators and school board members over the last two decades, those who don’t believe that teaching is a profession that should produce a living wage, benefits and a solid retirement.
Let’s face facts, so many of our educators are people who see teaching as a calling and are second income earners so they are willing to work for peanuts, but even with this fact, Utahns should not rely or take advantage of this situation and we should work to bring educator wages to a level that is appropriate and respects educators as the professionals they are, and as professionals who deserve a voice in the negotiation process.
There are major problems with disallowing collective bargaining, not just for teachers, but for all Utah workers. In nearly every occupational category, workers who are not members of unions have smaller paychecks than union members. By comparing the wages of workers within occupational groups, the cost of not being able to bargain collectively is clear.
In states that have laws restricting workers’ rights to be involved in collective bargaining, the average pay for all workers is lower. So-called “right to work” for less laws that limit workers’ rights to collectively bargain contracts (including wages and benefits) are a bad deal for all workers. In 2009, average pay in so-called “right to work” states was 11.1 percent lower than in states where workers have the freedom to form strong unions.
Collective bargaining and unions are associated with higher productivity, lower employee turnover, improved workplace communication, improved workplace health and safety, solvency in the organization as well as a better-trained workforce. During the period 1945-1973, when a high percentage of workers had unions, wages kept pace with rising productivity, prosperity was widely shared, and economic growth was strong.
However, since 1973, union density and collective bargaining have declined, causing real wages to stagnate despite rising productivity. I believe that this decline in union density and bargaining rights has contributed to the current financial crisis and severe recession we are experiencing at this time.
Unfortunately for Utah, our GOP leaders have done little to improve public education.
The decision to eliminate collective bargaining in Ogden has more to do with using the current economic situation to push political ideology than it has to do with the state budget and concerns for the common good of Utah children and residents and I wonder why those who claim to be patriots are so willing to consider ripping away rights from Utah’s and America’s working families.