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Column: The New Pinkertons

CEA Advisor April 2011CEA Executive Director John Yrchik has a great column in the April CEA Advisor. You should be receiving your Advisor in the mail any day now if you haven’t already. You can also always read the CEA Advisor online.  John’s column is reprinted below.

The New Pinkertons

Clashes between striking workers and Pinkerton guards in the 19th century formed a sad and bloody chapter in American history. Hired by some of the country’s wealthiest citizens in America’s Gilded Age, members of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency infiltrated unions, protected strikebreakers, and worked to keep union supporters out of plants and mines.

The new Pinkertons don’t use clubs. They use legislation. Their objective is the same, however—to destroy or to otherwise cripple unions. Unless you’ve been living in a desert hut, you know that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and a Republican-dominated legislature took away bargaining rights that public employees have had for more than 50 years.

In neighboring Ohio, Governor John Kasich signed into law a bill that dealt a mortal blow to public employee collective bargaining rights. While teachers and others will still be able to negotiate wages and certain working conditions, they will not be able to negotiate health benefits or sick time. Future wage increases will not be based on seniority, but merit. The bill also bans automatic payroll deduction for political expenditures and eliminates agency fee collections.

Butch Otter, Governor of Idaho, signed into law two bills that would restrict collective bargaining rights for teachers, eliminate continuing contracts for new teachers, and implement a pay-for-performance plan. The new laws are part of what State Schools Superintendent Tom Luna calls his “Students Come First” agenda. Not to be cheeky, but students didn’t ask to restrict teachers’ collective bargaining rights or get rid of tenure. Let’s be clear about what this really is—some adults beating the hell out of other adults in the name of students.

A bill in Tennessee would ban collective bargaining altogether. It was introduced less than a year after the Tennessee Education Association collaborated with the state and other education stakeholders to secure Race to the Top funding.

The national picture is truly bleak. NEA affiliates in Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, Florida, and Alabama are facing serious threats in the areas of professional rights, employee rights, and union rights. Conservative politicians are seeking to drain union coffers even as they make frontal assaults on the institution of public employee unionism and seek the diminution of the stature of teachers.

It’s helpful to remember that the climate in Connecticut would be very different today if the 2010 election had gone 5,000 votes the other way. And, although we’ve been somewhat insulated to date, we have not been altogether immune from the wave of national hostility toward teachers and other public employees. A barrage of negative advertising about Connecticut schools and a private think tank’s calls for an end to seniority as a factor in layoffs possess an eerie resonance with events in the rest of the country.

More than ever before, the eddies of events in Wisconsin, Idaho, and other states are finding their way to our state. These forces embolden those hostile to the things for which we stand. The environment will continue to grow more challenging for us. The future will require more active intervention in the challenges of public education, discernment about what constitutes good policy, grassroots involvement in the political process, and, above all, unity. In the last several years, we have begun to respond to these external threats. Much work remains to be done.

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