PEF, one of the leading state-worker unions, is constantly berating the State for contracting out work that it claims should be performed better and at lower costs by its members. Here’s a Times Union item that reports the union representing some PEF legal workers has complained that PEF is contracting out some of their work. Especially ironic is that the contract employees will be representing full dues-paying PEF members, while PEF’s own employees will be representing agency shop payers who have opted out of union membership, a group about which it presumably cares less.
This little item in the Albany Times Union (the longer story linked to in the item is behind the paper’s pay wall) about the burden of rising pension costs is unusual only because of the employer — NYSUT, the teachers’ union. NYSUT’s own management is clearly aware of the burdensome costs of benefits for its own employees, and its officers appear to be willing to take a cut while they negotiate similar cuts with their employees’ union.
Of course, NYSUT’s role as bargaining representative for its members is different from its role as an employer, and it is charged by law to represent its members’ interests. In playing that role in contract negotiations, I don’t think NYSUT would be receptive to the concept of givebacks by its members.
What I suspect I won’t see is any of the school districts asking for the kind of givebacks NYSUT appears to believe warranted with respect to its employees (and leading the way by imposing them on their own staff). One reason for public employee unions’ great success has been the lack of aggressive counter parties representing the taxpayers in contract negotiations, though I am sure the School Boards’ Association would argue to the contrary. There are many reasons for this: the understandable urge (especially when spending other peoples’ money) to show appreciation for the good work teachers do, the large financial and political clout of the unions, and the fact that the better the deal for teachers, the better the deal for management, who must of course, be paid more than the rank and file in the trenches. Of course, in a competitive market for teachers, salary and benefits must be competitive, but smart management would make sure they were regardless of union pressure.
Recently, a caller to one of our local public broadcasting stations expressed the dilemma of wanting to support local public education but wanting to remain in his house, which was becoming increasingly less affordable due to rising school taxes, among other things. The moderator pooh-poohed him with the usual response — “nothing’s too good for our kids.”
Like that caller, I see both sides, and I certainly don’t want to return to the days of exploitation of teachers. However, I wonder who is representing this taxpayer, and how strongly. Only when both sides have equal bargaining power can a reasonable balance of interests be struck.
This startling story in yesterday’s New York Daily News shows an almost criminal disregard by our Legislature for the taxpayers’ dollar. It’s another example of how wastefulness or ineptitude by government can turn liberals into conservatives. Those who would like government to do more ultimately decide that our government should not do more, because it either won’t do the job well or will do it at an unreasonably high cost (some of the overage going to the “corruption tax”).
Consequences of governmental inefficiency are unmet needs, or privatization of traditional government functions. Traditional public education in New York is threatened by charters and alternatives because of its high cost and mediocre results, accountability for which proves elusive. People vote with their feet and leave the State for places with lower taxes and services that are not appreciably worse than they get here (for example, I can’t think of anywhere, including the deep South, that has roads in worse condition than those in our area).
While people with differing ideologies can and do differ as to the scope of government’s role in our lives, there should be absolutely no disagreement among honest citizens that what government is called upon to do should be done as efficiently and effectively as possible, for the benefit of all, not special interests. Maybe that is an idea that all citizens can support, putting aside their ideological differences until after it is achieved.
I am not a big fan of Michael Mulgrew, the president of the New York City teachers’ union. Although I think most teachers and, by extension, their union, want to do the best they can for their profession and for their students, the union often takes positions that are contrary to those goals, albeit in the interests of at least some of their members, and cynically couches it in terms of what’s good for “our kids.” How perpetuating a hyper due-process tenure system that protects incompetent teachers or worse. and how negotiating a contract that cuts classroom instruction time are good for kids is beyond me. Yet here is Mulgrew, in a piece in the New York Daily News, making a lot of sense and taking a moderate, thoughtful stand on the testing issue. Of course, what he doesn’t address is what happens when, under the evaluation system he proposes, a teacher still does not produce results. But this column is a step in the right direction.
Kudos to the New York Daily News for staying on this story. If only a small part of the fiscal abuse it recounts is true, Mr. Galante should be in prison. However, the real damage fiscal abuse and waste cause is the eating away of trust and confidence in government, giving credence to the view of many that only the private sector can operate honestly and efficiently. While I contend that is not even close to being true, stories like this don’t help dispel the myth.
It’s hard enough to convince people of the worth of even honestly-run programs. When taxpayers feel they are being abused, they won’t even consider the merits. I can’t say that I would blame anyone who feels that way after reading this story.