One of the more interesting local quirks I have noticed during my years in Jacksonville is the voting public and our local elected officials’ view of the inherent evilness of unions, unless they happen to be the local police or firefighters union. Any other union, however, is doing nothing but trying to keep lousy employees secure in their job. Police, Fire=good. Teachers, Electrical Workers=bad.
Recently, Mark Woods wrote a column in the Times-Union where he discussed an unfortunate side effect of the budget cuts that will most likely be coming out of Tallahassee. The cuts mean many teachers—good teachers—will be lost. The response to his original column was typical. Blame the unions.
I have never belonged to a union. I did, however, grow up in an extended family full of teachers—elementary teachers, college professors and FFA teachers. Most of them belonged to unions. None of them were lousy performers who were looking for the security of being allowed to “skate by” in their profession without giving too much of themselves. Quite the contrary was actually true—they poured their hearts and souls into a profession that left them quite fulfilled, but certainly not wealthy. A number of years ago, I was amazed to attend my Aunt’s funeral and see the throngs of people that turned out to remember her. I had always known her as my beloved Aunt Ethel—they had known her as Ms. Ethel, the 2nd grade teacher that had taught science to nearly everyone who had attended school in the town of Alachua for the previous 25 years.
So why, in the midst of the worst education crisis we have seen in generations, are people rushing to blame the unions for the problems besetting the state?
John Meeks put it best in his quote in the Times-Union:
John Meeks, a Duval County teacher, wrote to give another perspective on union contracts and seniority. Without them, he said, school administrators faced with budget cuts might simply dump good veteran teachers and replace them with new (cheaper) teachers.
“The real menace to quality schools lies not in our collective bargaining process but in the state government’s failure to properly fund our schools,” he said.
For starters, Jacksonville needs to learn to start looking at all unions equally. Teachers unions are just as valid as the police union or firefighters union. (Incidentally, the Longshoreman’s Union would carry just as much validity.) The blame for this current education crisis should not be placed on the unions. It should be placed on Florida’s flawed tax structure and the spineless politicians who refuse to do anything about it. We are witnessing the downside of an over-dependence on tourism and growth to fund the state’s coffers. In the midst of a recession, neither one of those crucial sources will produce, and we are therefore left with a massive hole in the state’s budget. Exactly how is that the fault of unions?