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Do unions have a purpose in the US anymore? August 10, 2009

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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I hear or read of lots of things that convince me that labor unions in the US are an anachronism that only impedes good things and continues bad ones. Case in point was an example described bin this morning’s West County Times in which the California Teachers Association is opposed to the state’s schools applying for (and getting US federal stimulus monies). Why? It seems that the achievement testing required might “unfairly” harm teachers whose classes get poor scores. Thus, by default, other states will apply and get the monies.

If the teachers are so insecure that they would rather forego funds that must help their schools in these tough economic times, especially in California with its huge budget deficit and cutbacks, then how can they keep claiming they always think of the children’s welfare. Like the class-size red herring (that smaller class sizes mean more attention for each student and therefore a better education) the teachers are only interested in their jobs and salaries and benefits (that red herring was just a way to get over a hundred thousand new teachers into the union rolls because the demand outstripped qualified teachers, so they waived the qualifications and hired just about anyone who wanted to teach AND become a union member.)

Unions often ensure that bad workers cannot be dealt with. They say their contracts and procedures protect workers from unjustified punbishments, but when a bus driver had several accidents and numerous customer complaints, he or she is not even disciplined in any way – and this is commonplace in all unionized workforces.

The public transir workers here, particularly those of BART, think a strike that disrupts hundreds of thousands of their customers is justified if they ever have to pay even one dollar towards their own health care – most “public service” workers in this state have the same attitude. Get real, people! Most people would love to pay only a hundred dollar a month for health insurance coverage.

GM, Ford, and Chrysler all overprice their vehicles to allow for the more-than-generous wages and benefits they gave their workers until recently (new hires are now not so lavishly treated). I have seen estimates that this extra cost is $2000 to $5000 per vehicle over their Japanese competitors (who are not miserly in wages or benefits, just not stupidly lavish).

Unions had their justified day, when companies did have poor working conditions, low pay, poor benefits, harsh schedules. But those have wanes to nothing over the past two or three decades. Unionization ought to have few benefits in happening. All a union does is guarantee its bosses are paid well and that its union members are, too.

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1. The Chemist - August 10, 2009

I think the teacher’s unions are generally opposed to standardized testing for reasons that are also about the students they teach. My family is full of teachers on one side (none are part of a union) and not one of them are fans of standardized testing. While it may in fact weed out some of the bad or ineffective teachers. It may also allow for an altogether different kind of bad or inefficient teacher that does nothing to broaden a student’s horizons. It generates the type of student that CAN read, but given the choice, won’t. I’ll take a man who can’t read but has an intense desire to do so over someone who can but can’t be bothered. You can teach someone to read, but beyond a certain age you can’t teach someone the value of knowledge. This is especially the case with the NCLB standards the Bush administration put into place.

It also adversely affects exceptionally good students. It sets the bar low, and preoccupies instructors with getting everyone over it, rather than focusing on developing students beyond the testing standards. Once again, this is especially the case with the bad teachers. Unfortunately, resources and time are limited, and so the good teachers find themselves employing much the same methods. Standardized testing is preoccupied with uniformity in education rather than excellence, and if I recall correctly, it was excellence that we were worried about.

That said, in general unions have adopted a cartel-ish quality that complicates the relationship with labor and management. However, in principle, workers should retain the right to collectively bargain and reach favorable terms. Yet it should not come at undue expense to society. It’s difficult to balance the two without stepping on someone’s rights somewhere along the line.

2. fetzthechemist - August 10, 2009

Standardized tests are not very efficient nor accurate assessors of learnings or skills. But they are a far cry better than the previous things like passing percentage and graduation rates or even grades. You get BS on both ends. On one you have barely literate people graduating from high school – when they read at the fourth-grade level. One the other you have grade inflation and bonus point systems for “advanced” work, like writing an essay, that give you a grade-point average of 4.7 out of 4.0. How is that a good assessor?

Most teachers assume the gifted need little help. Their gifts ought to carry them and it is a valuable test to learn to do the studies without help. The education system has already dumbed down to help the least capable, abandoning those of greater talent. That bonus-point system lumpos all together, the gifted, the studious, the hardest workers.


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