From the Publisher March 2011

SFitz.jpg When enough is enough

Atrocious claims from teachers move me from sympathy to disdain

A variety of readers perceive New North B2B as being a bit left of other business publications in the state. B2B has always been supportive of education as a critical gear in the economic development engine. We’ve always supported teachers. And in general, we’ve usually been supportive of organized labor.

But it’s really taken a toll on me to watch educators’ unions across the state carrying on for the past few weeks feeling as if they’ve been treated so unfairly. And it’s tough to watch these same teachers groups waste away most of their political capital.

The issue surrounding their work conditions isn’t about life or death. It’s not about basic human rights. Your voice has been heard. So get back to work.

Hold on to what political dignity you have left and nurture it back to health. There’s another set of partisan elections coming up in less than 20 months. Pounce on the democratic process then.

The grumbling coming out of educator camps in mid- to late February has been tough to swallow, almost to the point of characterizing some of it as whining. How extreme did it get?

One protesting teacher interviewed from Madison in a national television news broadcast compared the plight of her colleagues to the civil disobedience demonstrated by Egyptians in Cairo earlier in February which ultimately paved the way to longtime President Hosni Mubarek stepping down from power.

Really? You’re going to compare genuine human suffering, an utter lack of economic opportunity and absolutely no democratic voice to the changes laid out in Gov. Walker’s budget repair bill. Totally unbelievable.

In the Oshkosh school district – and I can only assume in schools around the state – students were encouraged to skip class and sit out in the hallway in protest of Walker’s proposal while teachers took pictures to upload to their Facebook pages and share with colleagues.  

On a separate front, I was taken by surprise when I heard Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), someone who I regard as a personal hero, admit there were parallels between the plight of educators protesting in Madison and the civil rights movement he and millions others fought so hard to achieve throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Mr. Lewis – with all due respect – I’ve heard you speak and I’ve heard you tell your personal stories; they sound nothing like those emanating from the cushy frontlines of Wisconsin’s statehouse.

Unfortunately for many other public sector unions, the over-the-top antics of the teachers’ groups during the historic protests in February cast a dark shadow over an otherwise favorable perception many in the general public had in regard to unions. More than a century ago, unions built their power and their prestige to make business owners and government regulators listen at a time when workplaces were unsafe and often overwhelmingly unfair.

Does that same kind of hostile workplace environment endure today? Hardly. But all too often, certain labor groups have flexed their muscle in times of greed rather than flexing it in a time of dire need. The latter, again, is the proud tradition upon which organized labor is built.

While the rest of us pay more toward our monthly health insurance premiums than we make toward monthly car payments – and even more than the monthly home mortgage, in my case – it’s a stinging slap to our faces to hear this is unfair. I know several small business owners out here in northeast Wisconsin who make less than any fulltime public school district educator in the region. They pay all of their own health insurance. They fund all of their retirement.

Thousands of employers in the region aren’t particularly excited about the new health care plan Obama and Democrats in power pushed through last year. Those people still showed up for work throughout the brief Congressional debate on the subject. They didn’t disrupt segments of society and they didn’t fleece taxpayers of their money.

So have teachers’ unions been flexing their muscle for greed in this instance?

I couldn’t help but overhear one teacher – who clearly called in sick to school to head to Madison for the protests – say they “couldn’t believe” they actually had to get a doctor’s excuse if they wanted to get paid for the day they were out. “We’re on a self-funded plan,” this teacher said, “and a trip to the doctor’s office to get an excuse is going to cost money and just drive up our health costs further. It’s going to cost the taxpayers even more money.”

This teacher clearly doesn’t get it. And it’s not helping bring the sympathy back.