Post Academic


Has Disrespect of Teachers Fueled the Wisconsin Union-Busting Attempt?

PhotobucketAnyone who is a teacher or is close to a teacher is keeping track of the protests erupting in Wisconsin as Governor Scott Walker attempts to gut benefits for state employees and take away collective bargaining rights. If you’ll pardon the pun, something strikes me as odd about Walker’s anger toward the unions.

He thinks teachers are an easy target.

Except for police, firefighters and troopers, raises would be limited to inflation unless a bigger increase was approved in a referendum. The non-law enforcement unions would lose their rights to bargain over anything but wages …

Obviously, other non-law enforcement unions are affected, but much of the story has involved the fact that public schools across the state are shut down due to teachers on strike.

Putting straight-up politics aside, why is it that teacher’s unions arouse ire, but police and fire unions tend to escape first-round union attacks? Police and fire departments are vital to our safety. No matter how irate they are about paying taxes, most people don’t want their police and fire department to go on strike. Aren’t teachers valuable to society as well? They are the ones watching kids all day and training them to be productive members of society. So they don’t get the right to negotiate for their wages, while police and fire departments do?

Image from the German Federal Archive, 1982, from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

So why don’t teachers get respect? No one wants to mess with police officers and fire departments. Police officers and firefighters are heroic. They are valuable, and we still see them as valuable no matter how many stories of crooked cops or bumbling firefighters emerge. We forgive them for their screw-ups. But when teacher’s money and benefits are on the table, people start citing instances of screw-up teachers, assuming that the screw-ups and slackers represent the whole.

Why is this? Because of the old slogan “those who can do, those who can’t teach”? Do some of us outside of teaching assume we’re better because we are “doing”? Or is it because teachers have to spend time with kids, suggesting that they’re doing women’s work? Or because of the fact that they get “summers off”? (You should know that if you tally up the numbers they wind up working way more than Hamsters.)

Whether you agree with the governor of Wisconsin or not, I’d just like to know why, when it comes to determining what is valuable to society, teachers (at all levels, not just professors) fall low on the list.

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30 Responses to 'Has Disrespect of Teachers Fueled the Wisconsin Union-Busting Attempt?'

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  1. Here’s an admittedly depressing theory: I think that right now, pre-college teaching is something crazy like 90% female. Like other “women’s” work (i.e. nursing), it tends to be taken for granted and the minute anyone dares to point out that it actually is, like, work that deserves to be paid and respected, people freak out. I’m not sure what the historical gender ratios are, but I’m pretty sure that gender’s playing into the equation right now.

    And of course police forces and firemen aren’t “women’s” fields….ah, this whole thing is so depressing. My grandfather was management, and he still freaking believed in unions because he had a realistic view of human nature.

    I’m going to go back to hiding under the covers now.

    • Cassie said,

      There’s actually an easier answer to why firefightes and police are immune this time around: they’re the unions who supported Walker’s election in the first place. No one is expecting their immunity to last, however.

      Here’s another sobering thought on the state of education in WI: while the bill limits the unions’ bargaining rights to wages, it bans UW teachers from ALL bargaining rights, including wages. And no one is giving out any info why we’re being singled out.


  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Liana Silva, Samra Bufkins MJ,APR, AK, MKEBrewerGal, Post Academic and others. Post Academic said: Has disrespect of teachers fueled the Wisconsin union-busting attempt?: http://wp.me/pPwSr-Wv […]

  3. Michael said,

    I’m not an expert on Wisconsin politics, but if I had to guess why teachers are always the first to get targeted (in any state), I would say it is because public education is such a large part of most state budgets that avoiding schools would do little to solve budget woes.

    And police and fire should have the same pay raise standards (increase with inflation, not ahead of it) as teachers.

  4. Melanie Sinclair said,

    Most teachers are women, most firefighters and police are men, extrapolate from there. When an industry becomes comprised of women, men denigrate it. Sad that our society still revolves around the old saw, that men need to make a living to support families and it is ok to shaft women who don’t. Which is really just party line BS. More women are heads of households than ever and teachers are an incredibly valuable resource, but until systemic abuse and hatred of women is recognized as a hate crime this kind of stuff will go on and on.

  5. annoytheleft said,

    This is a budget issue, not a gender issue. Michael nailed it.

    The fact is, the percentages that teachers pay toward health insurance and toward their pensions are well below what workers in the private sector pay (even after this legislation is enacted).

    The notion that teachers (well… any public employee, for that matter) should somehow be protected from the effects of the recession on the backs of the taxpayers already affected is ludicrous.

    • Lewisfamily503 said,

      Okay, let’s say that teachers DO pay less towards their health insurance (although in my state I don’t believe that is the case). Do teachers receive bonuses in good years? NO! Teachers must ride out the bad years with pay freezes and erosions in benefits with NO possible way to every recoup these losses the way private sector employees do. That is the nature of a public employee. Lower pay than their private sector peers, but at least they receive decent health insurance. This makes up for the lack of any way to EVER be rewarded in good times with financial perks. The thing is, people want to strip teachers of almost any benefits whatsoever which is simply ludicrous. Good luck finding anything more than a warm body to put in classrooms of the future. Who wants a job that hard if in addition to NO pay or benefits, everyone hates you too?

      • Rob said,

        As for bonuses I feel very comfortable saying that 99% of the private sector employees do not get a bonus of any type. Nor do they have any say in any retirement plan that the company may decide to provide. Private sector employees are free to contribute as much as the law allows for the retirements benefits and the company they work for doesn’t have to pay a penny if they choose. In most cases it is the private sector employee that funds his own retirement or pension. Public sector employees have a large portion of their pensions paid for by the government or the taxpayer however you want to look at it.

        As for health care benefits the private sector employees are continuously paying more each year to carry benefits. They have no choice except what is covered and how much they want to pay for premiums and co pays.

        As for pay, sure a private employee can negotiate for more pay, they generally don’t get it. Many times the companies may pass off a nominal pay raise that if the private sector employee is lucky may be at the cost of living. Even in good years employers are stingy with pay raises.

        So if you really think a public sector employee really has it that bad. Try working in the private sector for awhile and you’ll definitely have a complete change of mind.


  6. OK. So, if it is a budget issue, then why aren’t the police and fire departments being asked to give up the same thing? Or do they pay a percentage toward health insurance and pensions that is similar to what those in the private sector pay? If gender or general disrespect toward teachers has nothing to do with it, then why shouldn’t all public-worker unions in Wisconsin, including police and fire departments, face the same cuts at the same time?


    • Agree, Caroline, those are fair questions to ask — sure, budget-cutting means making tough choices, but what really motivates them, and can somebody please compare the numbers in a reasonable fashion instead pulling all this apples-and-oranges, illusionist crap?

    • Michael said,

      No one wants to be known as soft on crime or hurting security, for one. That’s a well known political fact. Ever heard anyone run on a platform of soft on crime?

      Second, there are a lot more teachers than there are police and firefighters, so it is easy to cut a lot of money at once by cutting public education.

      I find it funny that union pay in Wisconsin is increasing faster than inflation, yet everyone is in a fuss because the Governor wants pay to increase at the same rate as inflation (not kill increases all together). Heaven forbid the teacher’s union take a reasonable cut during tough economic times. That said, police and fire need to have cuts equal to those in education (inflation), as well. Granted, it will likely never happen, but it should. The Governor’s biggest mistake was not doing this, which opened him up to these types of arguments.

      I don’t think it’s a gender issue. I find it hard to believe that the Governor is sitting in his office looking to stick it to females. He’s looking for the quickest way to cut the most money, and in most states that is education.

      As educators we don’t like it because we see education as the foundation of everything. Unfortunately, life isn’t that easy. Everyone thinks their job is more important than everyone else’s. I’m willing to bet the police think security is the foundation of everything.

  7. Arnold Pan said,

    I don’t really understand WI politics either, but, from what I understand, the budget issue seems not to be the main issue from the union standpoint at least. According to Talking Points Memo, the unions have agreed to the givebacks in the Gov’s budget. It’s the Gov’s attempt to nullify collective bargaining rights that’s at the heart of the issue.

    As for the gender issue, I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it’s definitely something to think about. It’s hard to think of this situation in a vacuum at a time when “fiscal responsibility” and “budgets” are used by conservatives as a backdoor to attempt to limit reproductive rights and women’s choices.

    Not to open a whole new can of worms, but there’s probably more involved than just the budget when the budget is invoked…


    • I think you’ve hit the nail on the head: everybody’s going to claim it’s ‘just a budget issue’ when they try to cut programs they don’t like, but as you say, it’s always to be more than just the budget, it going to come down to how individuals prioritize– so how can voters/taxpayers decide, when there’s so much rhetoric around the issues?

      Apart from the union thing, I’m thinking of the Planned Parenthood vote? That’s a program that does a lot of good for public health (e.g. low-cost cancer screening and checkups) whether or not you believe abortion is okay — but I don’t believe for a minute that defunding it is a mere budget choice; it’s clearly intended as an ideological statement. In the same way, the WI clearly has an anti-union agenda, whatever Walker says about budgets. Which is why I’d just like to see some non-partisan numbers instead of all this hot air.

      • annoytheleft said,

        Of course it’s an anti-union thing in Wisconsin. Heck, even FDR was dead-set against the very notion of labor unions for public sector workers. It doesn’t make the budget issue any less true, though.

        Further, agreement on the part of the union to accept the cuts is meaningless if their collective bargaining rights remain. The savings would last only until the next contract negotiation and then everything starts all over again.

      • Rob said,

        Public sector employees are not protected under the National Labor Relations Act (which protects all private sector unions). So what the state giveth they have a right to taketh away.

  8. Al said,

    I can’t speak on Wisconsin Politics, but I can tell you one fact regardless of state.

    POLICE AND FIRE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO STRIKE, IT IS ILLEGAL.

    In NJ things are going the opposite right now, roughly 1000+ Police across the state and Firefighters have been laid-off. And they’ve been targeted simply because they cannot conduct a strike.

    As a citizen of this nation, you have a right to an Education. How dare teachers go on strike? You are essentially depriving children of their constitutional rights while Police Officers die protecting and enforcing them.

  9. gradland said,

    I agree that budget-cutting is rarely just a money issue–cutting certain programs and disadvantaging certain groups is almost always a calculated political statement. In the current climate teachers and teachers’ unions are easier to vilify than firefighters and police–in particular a lot of media outlets seem to have latched on to the idea of teachers’ unions as nefarious machines that keep bad teachers from being fired at all costs. Of course that problem exists, but it’s hardly unique to teachers’ unions.

    I see the same gaps here that I see in higher ed–extolling the importance of good teaching while simultaneously labeling those who ask for a living wage and fair labor practices as selfish, lazy, or derelict in their responsibilities to their students.


  10. It is interesting that media outlets paint teachers’ unions as “nefarious machines” (wonderful turn of phrase there!). Yet bad cops pop up on the news constantly, at least where I live, and no one disputes that cops are essentially a good thing. I’ve heard some terrible stories, but I still trust that the police are out there to help people and deserve to be paid well for a valuable public service. So, why can’t the same be said of teachers?

    • gradland said,

      I wonder if it goes back to what Michael said about no one wanting to be “soft on crime”–are people just more forgiving of bad cops than they are of bad teachers? Or is it that teachers are the most visible and easily blame-able components of a very complicated and messed-up system?

  11. by all deeds said,

    cut teachers wages and have them work the same hours .
    all this reduction allow them over paid people to regain the all to high pay.

    them teacher dont like the new way , we have a multutde of underworked un-employed college graduates waiting to work…

    privitize as much of police and fire department as possiable ..

    during emergancies nationslize these golden workers..

    effiency must become a reality .. checks and ballances must truly work or else there is solutin ..

    cut the work week in half and make more work for the unemployed!!..

    those middeleast riots are just a sample of what could come about here..

    stop those golden ones living high on the hog..

    • sfs said,

      Just how many of these “multitudes of unemployed” are qualified, or even competent at teaching? How many will stay with the job when the economy improves?

      Consider that, before the recession, there was a teacher shortage in math and science. There still is. Do you think this is solved by vilifying teachers, reducing their salaries and benefits, and then effectively capping their raises based on inflation?

      In education, like much of life, you get what you pay for. Anyone who thinks this is a cushy, high-paying job has clearly never done it.

    • Aliceblue said,

      This is a joke, right?
      1. Teachers, no possessive;
      2. “Them teacher”
      3. Spellings such “possiable”, “emergancies”, and “effiency” to name a FEW.

      – Perhaps not the best person to comment on education?

      • annoytheleft said,

        Well… If the atrocious grammar of that post isn’t tongue-in-cheek, then maybe it’s illustrative of the problems in public education that have not been remedied by ever increasing expenditure.

      • aifanoregon said,

        Annoytheleft: Way to not take ANY responsibility for one’s education and blame teachers for one’s atrocious spelling. But then, that’s what you right-wingers LOVE to do. Blame, blame, blame …………

      • annoytheleft said,

        Baseless generalizations are no substitute for facts, aifanoregon. The numbers don’t lie: We spend more per student and get markedly shabbier results than other nations.


  12. […] point, which I don’t really have to make because Jon Stewart and Post Academic already did: okay, sure, it’s normal not to understand a job until you’ve done it. But why, oh why, […]

  13. Nick said,

    The government politicians have been vilifying teachers since the 1983 “A Nation at Risk” propaganda document fabricated by President Reagan to further his own political standing. “Mr. Reagan, tear down that report!” The media jumped at the news, printing the lie and ignoring the truth. Then, in the name of reform, the billionairecorporatewallstreetindustrialhedgefund fat cats started seeing an opportunity to get their hands on the 600 billion spent on education each year. Vilify, vilify, vilify until everyone hates. Create “bad” teacher stories (like Reagan “welfare queen” myths) and destroy the public school system, creating a privatized, for-profit system in its place. List schools on the stock exchange, force teaching to be a service industry, make money and to heck with the kids. The truly sad part is that reaganbushclintonbushobama are all the same president, working for billionaires, not the shrinking middle class.

    • annoytheleft said,

      The united states is ranked 14th in reading among 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. 17th for science and 25th in math. 25th! We’re spending, on average, $10,040 per student which is 41% higher than the average among OECD nations.

      Just what exactly is the NEA doing with that $600 billion?

      • Nick said,

        Most of the problems in this country come from people like annoytheleft, and I mean Democrats and Republicans. When did we become so selfish that we kept score and a win/loss record between the two parties? Shouldn’t our political representatives be working for all Americans to solve problems for the well-being of all citizens. The annoytheleft and annoytherights don’t understand that the public employees pay taxes also.
        Maybe they should start thinking for themselves, rather than accepting party propagagnda. Dig around and find the truth about other country’s higher scores than America or are you afraid to think for yourself. By the way, the NEA doesn’t have 600 billion.


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