Teachers in Wisconsin will not be defeated by Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to curtail their collective bargaining rights and cut back on their health care benefits. Teachers walked off the job and protested in front of the State Capitol in Madison to protest what DNC Chairman Tim Kaine described as a war on public employees. Collective bargaining has been the method by which teacher unions negotiate the salaries, evaluation procedures, medical benefits, and working conditions (including class size) for teachers for nearly 100 years. Teachers are not going to give up their rights to collective bargaining freely nor easily.
The largest teachers’ union in Wisconsin, the WEAC, called upon all citizens of Wisconsin to join them in their protest at the Capitol in Madison:
all Wisconsinites who are able, to come to the Capitol on Thursday and Friday and stand beside your neighbors, family and friends to help our voices be heard.”
Our goal is not to close schools but to instead to remain vigilant in our efforts to be heard.
Many school districts did not have sufficient substitute teachers and had to shut down last Thursday and Friday when teachers either called in sick or walked off the job. The WEAC was quick to point out that school closures was not the objective it was seeking; rather that the advocacy of teachers’ rights to collective bargaining and health care benefits was its prime objective.
Without collective bargaining, teachers can lose tenure, their seniority, their current placements at their schools, and their rights to representation in grievance procedures in a dispute with an administrator. Furthermore, they will have nobody representing them in salary negotiations and will more than likely suffer huge salary cuts. Without health benefits, teachers will have to buy their own benefits out of their own pockets which will denigrate their salaries even further.
Class size also can be adversely affected. Without collective bargaining, individual school districts in Wisconsin are free to decide their own class sizes without having to negotiate fair and equitable numbers with the individual teacher unions. Smaller class size does make a difference in student performance. In his article, Class Size Reduction: Effects and Relative Costs, Lawrence Picus discusses the effects of smaller classes:
Few public policy proposals are more popular than class-size reduction. In March 1997, a Wall Street Journal poll found that 70 percent of adults believe reducing class size would lead to big improvements for public schools. A 1997 Education Week survey found that 83 percent of teachers and 60 percent of principals believed classes should not exceed 17 students (Bell 1998). Parents say their children are happier and learn more in smaller classes. Teachers report they have fewer discipline problems, are able to give students more individual help, and can cover material faster.
One can deduce that if those are the positive effects of class size reduction, that a massive increase in class size resulting from Governor Walker’s elimination of collective bargaining rights for teachers, will have an opposite effect on education in Wisconsin. Suffice to say that this walkout and protest by teachers is not just about their salaries and their collective bargaining rights. it is about the students too and how this proposal is going to affect them adversely down the road.
This situation in Wisconsin is going to be one to watch over the next few months. Hopefully the teachers will prevail and collective bargaining nationwide will remain as one of the very few viable and necessary negotiating tools that our dedicated public school teachers have available to them in our ever-changing society.