Once upon a time there were over a million auto workers who belonged to the United Auto Worker (UAW) union. High paying jobs with excellent benefits.
The CEOs of the “Big Three” (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler) believed Americans would never buy Japanese cars … they fought against CAFE standards (required higher gas mileage), built larger vehicles, SUVs and trucks, low gas mileage but higher per unit profits, and generally ignored calls for “clean” cars, alternative fuels and “green” cars.
The UAW proffered, “we build cars, we don’t design them,” and lobbied along with the CEOs to prevent changes in law. The result: UAW retiree pensions and heath plans are in serious jeopardy, and, “Big Three” may not survive.
The unionized auto worker is rapidly becoming an extinct species.
Too frequently I hear a teacher scree:
“If my principal would leave me alone so I can teach …”
“If these kids cared I could really teach …”
“If parents gave a damn maybe the kids would learn something …”
Shirking reasonability by blaming principals or kids or parents is a path that will lead to the demise of public schools and public school unions.
We cannot blame principals or the school system: we must create learning organizations, collaborative institutions in which all the stakeholders, principals, teachers, support personnel and parents can create a synergy, a force that educates kids. And, yes, we have to measure our own effectiveness.
While the troglodytes squirm the new American Federation Teachers president Randi Weingarten is engaging these core issues.
* Teacher compensation: Should student achievement be linked to teacher compensation? and, if so, how? In Denver the teacher union has agreed to continue a complex plan. In New York City, schools just completed the first year of a union negotiated school-wide bonus plan.
* Tenure: Should tenure safeguards be tied to pupil achievement? In Washinton DC the teacher union is in the midst of negotiations, should they trade off tenure protections for large salary increases tied to student achievement benchmarks?
* No Child Left Behind: On the national scene NCLB must be reauthorized during the next legislative session, should the AFT oppose the law, or, “fix” the law, and, if so, how? Currently there is a substantial disconnect between school leadership and classroom teachers around NCLB.
The approaching presidential election pits a blatantly anti-union candidate, McCain, with a pro-voucher agenda versus a pro-union candidate Obama, with a complex, nuanced educational plan.
Will teachers fully engage in supporting, and electing Obama?
These are perilous times for unions: will teacher unions be nimble, will they be able to engage and become core players in the remolding of our national education agenda, or, will they simply oppose from the outside and yearn for the past?
Auto worker unions chose a path that lead to their demise, can teacher unions challenge the complex issues and become part of the solution, rather than part of the problem?
Their very future depends upon it.