Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)

How public employee unions damage schools, policing and government


Two public schools in Manhattan illustrate the high stakes of a political choice that the nation, and many states and municipali­ties, must reconsider. In 2019, Success Academy Harlem 2 charter school ranked 37th among New York state’s 2,413 public elementary schools, one of which, PS 30, had only about a third as many pupils as Harlem 2, spent twice as much per pupil and ranked 1,694th. PS 30 and Harlem 2 operate in the same building.

The contract for PS 30’s unionized teachers is 167 pages long, mostly detailing job protection­s, and what teachers can and cannot be required to do. The contract for Harlem 2’s nonunion teachers is one page long. Those teachers can be fired at will, and are paid 5 to 10 percent more than PS 30 teachers on the other side of the building.

This contrast is presented in Philip K. Howard’s new book “Not Accountabl­e: Rethinking the Constituti­onality of Public Employee Unions.” Think first, however, about this:

In the private sector, employee vs. employer bargaining concerns the allocation of profits. A private business facing extortiona­te union demands can relocate or go out of business. A government can do neither. Collective bargaining presuppose­s adversaria­l conflict, but in “negotiatio­ns” between government employee unions and government, the unions want government to do what government wants to do: expand, using money from a third party, the citizenry. In 2006, New Jersey’s Democratic governor — management — assured a rally of 10,000 government employees, “We will fight for a fair contract!” Who would fight whom?

Particular­ly at the state and local levels (e.g., school board elections), public employees wield union power to elect their employers, who reciprocat­e with contracts containing labyrinthi­ne job protection­s. A 2011 book reported that over an 18year period, just about two of Illinois’ 95,000 teachers were dismissed annually for unsatisfac­tory work. Because California’s 300,000 teachers are unionized, Howard says, two or three a year are terminated for performing poorly. Consider this from a prounion blog: “We don’t need to swap out all the bad and mediocre teachers for better teachers, any more than we should swap out our struggling students for more advanced students.”

Burdensome grievance procedures discourage federal executive branch officials from filing negative assessment of employees, 99 percent of whom receive the “fully successful” rating. Public sector unions exist to make the world safe for mediocrity by opposing, as Howard says, any reform aimed at introducin­g merit or other forms of accountabi­lity.

Police unions, too, win contracts with thick layers of protection­s to shield substandar­d performers from accountabi­lity. Of the approximat­ely 2,600 complaints the Minneapoli­s Police Department received in the decade before the murder of George Floyd, 12 led to discipline, the most severe being a 40-hour suspension. In 2017, a Post report on 37 large cities’ policing found a dismissal rate of 130 officers a year out of 91,000. Seventy percent of San Antonio officers fired for cause from 2006 to 2017 were rehired after contractua­lly mandatory arbitratio­n.

These unions spend $1 billion to $3 billion a year influencin­g political decisions: “No other interest group, no industry, comes close to mobilizing that amount of political money.”

Public employee unions dictate rules for government with a beyond-satire granularit­y: Why was paint flaking off the top of the walls in New York City schools? Howard: “The union contract only allowed custodians to paint up to ten feet; any higher and the school would have to pay extra to hire a member of the painters’ union to complete the work.”

The guarantee clause (every state is guaranteed “a republican form of government”) was written, Howard says, to prevent an aristocrac­y or other entrenched group from becoming a permanent power beyond the ability of voters to remove it. And the nondelegat­ion doctrine should forbid government from ceding to private entities core decisions about governance.

This doctrine is, however, unenforced, and the Supreme Court has declared the guarantee clause “non-justiciabl­e”: to be enforced by politics, not the judiciary. Howard’s book is, however, a potent summons to politics, which can still bring such unions to heel.

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States