What should be done in the Medford School District/Teacher's Union Dispute?

A friend of mine is blowing up my FB wall with posts about the ongoing strike between the Medford School District and the local Teacher’s Union. I know we’ve had union themed threads recently, but this seemed sufficiently different and interesting.

I will try to keep this as unbiased as possible, but I am only human.

Article from the local NPR station here

In summary: 5 years ago, during the recession, the district and teacher’s negotiated a new contract, where the teachers did not get very much due to the recession. The teachers claim the expectation was that when the recession ended, the next contract would be generous to teachers.

As far as I can tell the current strikes boils down to two issues:

  1. Pay - The school district is offering to increase wages by 10%, but asking the teachers to contribute a larger percentage to their pension fund. The district claims that benefit payments have ballooned, meaning they can’t offer as much of an increase as they might like and they need to get pension costs down. The teachers argue that the new structure would represent a decrease in pay in real terms, and after 5 years of no wages this is unacceptable.

  2. Working Conditions - The Teachers would like a better student-teacher ratio for certain classes. The district wants to make some changes to the teacher’s planning periods (I haven’t been able to find out what those changes are or why they’re unacceptable - the article above says it will break up the planning period but doesn’t mention how or why).

To a great extent, I can see both sides here.

On the pay issue: The district has revenue X and costs Y, and when X < Y then something needs to be cut (I don’t think the district can raise taxes itself). On the other hand, working for years without a raise or even getting your pay cut really sucks.

Better student teacher ratios: Something I would support in theory, but see the point about revenue X and costs Y.

Planning Periods: Without knowing more details, I can’t say one way or the other.

Negotiations have broken down, the teachers are on strike, and the district is using subs to teach half-day classes (we can all guess how well that is going).

This seems fundamentally different from most business disputes with labor. If a business doesn’t have the revenue to pay it’s workers, it needs to increase revenue, shrink the workforce, or close it’s doors. The district doesn’t have any of those options. Of course, the teachers deserve to be treated and paid like professionals.

What’s the solution in a case like this?

I guess their expectations were wrong.

If they cannot accept the terms, they need to find other jobs that pay more. If they can’t find those jobs, perhaps they need to reconsider what they will accept.

The teachers’ union wants the district to hire more teachers, IOW.

Not very different AFAICT. In fact, the part about the pensions is reminiscent of the GM troubles, brought about in large part because the unions wanted unsustainable benefits for their retirees. Same here for the teachers’ unions. They want More. OK, when was that ever not the case? People in hell want ice water - that doesn’t mean they get it.


Indeed, that did not seem like a very bright expectation on the part of the teachers.

Of course, the converse is also true. If the district cannot find teachers willing to work for the contract offered, perhaps they need to reconsider what they will offer.

Well, duh. Just because it would also be good for the union does not make it a bad or nefarious idea.

Not wanting your effective pay cut is not quite the same as wanting ‘More’. And the counterargument is that if GM had built the cars people wanted to buy, the benefits desired by the union wouldn’t have been so bad. In this case, the school district doesn’t have control over what tax revenue they get (or so I am led to believe)

Supply and demand. The union angle is ultimately irrelevant here, except that they’re speaking on behalf of all teachers generally.

“What should be done” is to let it play out. The teachers may strike until the school district caves and they get the deal they want. Or they may settle for the district’s terms rather than stay unemployed. Or maybe the union and the school district will come to some sort of compromise.

I don’t understand what the problem here is that requires a special solution. Just like any employer/employee negotiation, both sides will come to a mutually satisfying conclusion or they’ll walk away from the table and find the jobs/teachers they need elsewhere.

In other words, what makes this situation different from every other time an employee wants a raise and threatens to quit if they don’t get it?

It’s different in that public employees should not be allowed to strike. At the foundation of American labor law all of the big Democrat Presidents that were vigorous supporters of labor opposed public sector unions and public sector employees striking. They were not legal at the Federal level until the Kennedy Presidency and for good reason, public servants can and have injured society as a whole when they strike, and part of the deal that comes with public service is that you are supposed to work for society as a whole. That is your job. Most private strikes do not have such wide ranging effects, but when they have, government has interceded to stop them. Both Presidents Roosevelts were heavy handed with both labor and management in making sure coal strikes were resolved appropriately during their Presidencies. (TR due to a coal shortage possibly causing freezing deaths in the Northeast where many homes were still warmed by coal furnaces, FDR actually took over operations at coal mines because he was tired of the UMWA continually striking and disrupting the flow of this vital military resource during the height of WWII.) The precedent is thus there that when labor stoppages affect society as a whole, government has a compelling interest in interceding and has done so in the past. Since government operations always affect all of society, any government employee work stoppage is thus unacceptable and should not be permitted as a matter of policy.

While State and Local governments have allowed unionization since the early 20th century, this is one area where FDR was unequivocally correct and Kennedy never should have allowed it at the Federal level. At the State and Local level (where teachers operate) it should be banned in every school district in every state.

From FDR himself:

Certainly. Which makes it no different from any other hiring/firing/strike situation. If you are saying that the school board should start hiring scabs, that’s certainly an option, or it should be.

No, it isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but in a situation where existing teachers haven’t got a raise for three years, and where it does not appear that the current financial situation favors more spending, hiring more teachers is not a good way to address the situation.

AIUI the teachers’ unions not only don’t want a pay cut, they also want a raise. So they do want “More”.

I don’t think the problem was just that people didn’t want GM cars; it was that the cars GM made cost a lot more because of the excessively high demands of the UAW for its retirees. It is a little facile to simply insist that the UAW should get everything they want, and if it is unsustainable, just instruct the car companies to sell more cars.

It appears that the teachers’ union is asking for something they can’t have. Why should the school board agree to give them money to which the school board has no access? Where does the teachers’ union expect to get this money?

This is an attitude I find irritating when put forth in discussion of the GM collapse. "Give us all the money we ask for, and never mind how it is going to paid for. If it turns out that it can’t be paid for, that’s your fault for agreeing to it.

And if you don’t agree to it, we will go on strike until you do."

There comes a point at which the unions need to be told “No, we can’t afford that. It sucks that you haven’t had a raise for three years. It sucks that you now have to contribute more towards your own pensions. Get over it.” How many of the taxpayers who fund the school system have gotten a 10% raise in the last three years? I don’t live in the district, but I haven’t, and I am certainly paying a hell of a lot more out of pocket towards my health care and other benefits than I used to.

Things are tough all over. I don’t see why teachers should necessarily be exempt from that. Teaching is an important profession. But that does not mean (IMO) that they should therefore be given things we cannot afford.


Not allowing public workers to quit their jobs sounds a lot like “involuntary servitude” to me. It doesn’t change anything if they all want to quit at the same time. Federal government or Mom & Pop’s Discount Grocery, it doesn’t matter – if your employees don’t want to work for you, you need to either make their employment more desirable, or find people who do want to work for you with your current policies and rates of compensation.

This is not a matter of legislation, it’s an economic fact. People will stop working for you if you don’t make it worth their while, unless you want to put them in chains and whip them when they disobey.

Striking isn’t quitting. There are lots of public workers who can’t strike (even in union-friendly states, firefighters can’t strike), but they’re still allowed to quit.

Kind of a Catch-22, also.

We want to pretend we’re capable of getting top notch talent who can help raise our kids to lead the way but at rock bottom compensation (including pay, working conditions, benefits, respect, etc).

One of those has to give (talent or compensation) but we don’t want to admit that to ourselves.

It’s not definite, but we (the general we) may have set goals in education that are not achievable with the resources allotted, yet we won’t alter our goals nor our resource allotment.

And if everyone decides to quit at once if compensation and/or working conditions aren’t improved?

Striking is getting all your coworkers together and threatening to quit. Free speech + free assembly + no slavery = the constitutional right to strike, if you ask me. Perhaps some lawyers can come in and explain it all away, but it seems like an unavoidable conclusion.

No it’s not. An employer that treats a strike as the employees quitting is in violation of the law.

No, it’s a constitutional right to quit. Strikers are current employees, not former employees, so if you’ve quit you can’t be on strike. Unemployed people have nothing to strike against.

This seems like a specious argument.

They are not “all quit[ting] at the same time”. These teachers have no intention of quitting. If they quit, then the school board closes negotiations and instantly begins a scramble to offer these jobs permanently to other teachers. I’ll bet this could be done, though at the cost of short term disruption.

But under the law, strikers have a lot of protections and job security, and people who strike are taking advantage of that. They want the employer to be required to bargain in good faith and to hold their jobs for them while they are on strike, rather than to be dismissed and go find other jobs. You can’t do that and pretend that it’s just that you won’t work for these terms. That’s not remotely true.

You obviously aren’t very well versed in U.S. labor law. A strike is a very specific action that is very strongly legislated. In the U.S., a company cannot, for example, just fire people who are striking and hire some new workers. They may be able to hire temporary replacements (‘scabs’), depending on the state and many other factors.

A strike taken without the approval of their union representatives is known as a “wildcat strike”, and is generally illegal in the U.S.

Frankly, the union is entitled to everything it wants. Unions are always in the right in these cases.

Where I am, a teacher salary–including one for a teacher with six years experience–is low enough that your kids qualify for Medicaid.

Excuse me, wrong possessive pronoun. It’s low enough that my kids qualify for Medicaid.

I haven’t had a real raise since I began*, but I have had effective pay cuts, including decreased benefits and the loss of a bonus for meeting certain schoolwide testing goals; at the same time I’ve had my responsibilities increased.

A major reason why I haven’t had a pay raise is that the Republican-controlled legislature cut the sales tax as soon as they could, and found other ways to further reduce taxes on the wealthiest 20% of the state’s residents (whose children, I presume, aren’t on Medicaid).

None of this is entirely relevant to the OP, of course, especially since teacher unions are illegal where I live (despite what the state legislature would have you believe in their constant attacks on teacher unions). But it does mean that my sympathies lie, by default, with the teachers.

  • I did get a 12% pay hike after getting my National Boards, but I shouldered the $2500 application fee myself. That may count as a raise for some folks; even with that money, kids are still gonna be on Medicaid as soon as the Kafkaesque, political-crony-studded DHHS figures out how to process our application.

Collective bargaining without the ability to strike kinda undermines the point of unionizing. It’s one thing if a stike poses a safety threat (eg. Prison guards, police), and not an primarily economic one (eg. teacher, metro workers, etc.). There is nothing special about teachers that should give them fewer rights that any other private sector group of workers that wants to strike.

Changing the student/teacher workload is not just about hiring more teachers. It’s also about adjusting workload. I’ve had 200 kids on my roster at a time: it’s a totally different job than when you have 135.

In more general terms, we have over 400 vacancies for classroom teachers posted right now in my district. Most of them have been empty since school started. It’s hard for me to reconcile that with any notion that teachers are paid adequately. If the pay were adequate for the job, people would be willing to do it.

It’s different in that the school board has no real control over their revenue, and they have a by law minimum amount of performance, and cannot go out of business, which makes them quite different from a business.

For the record, I have nothing against scabs, but I’m not advocating for their hiring either.

It is very rock and a hard place - obviously both sides want to do the right thing for the students, but there is the issue of cost vs. need.

Surely you agree that wanting your salary to keep up with inflation at the very least is reasonable?

GM had many problems. Luckily, I did not suggest that the UAW should get everything they want and the management was entirely at fault for not selling more cars. I’m saying that both sides deserved to share blame and it’s denying the facts to try and lay they blame wholly on one side or the other.

Indeed, this is the crux of the debate.

How many taxpayers got pay cuts and were told to like it? I think it’s fair to say the teachers are understandably miffed.

Absolutist statements like this are only deserving of :rolleyes::rolleyes::rolleyes:

Egad. I’m surprised your state still has teachers to employ after crap like that.

I agree with this. But this should take care of itself without a union action. It’s not clear from what you write who is teaching all these classes now, but eventually whatever measures they’re using to cope should be insuffienct and they’ll have to attract more teachers by offering better terms.

[FWIW, my HS math teacher claimed that the dominance of women in the teaching profession undercut salaries in the field. He felt that male teachers tended to be the primary breadwinners and had minimum salary requirements for this reason. But a lot of women tended to be relying primarily on their spouses’ salaries, and for them, the hours and flexibility of teaching outweighed the low salaries. (He said this about 30 years ago, and he was talking about changes that had taken place in the several decades preceding that.)]

I’m not sure why people are claiming that the school board has no control over their revenue. In NJ at least, the school board has quite a lot of control over their revenue. They set their budget every year and assess taxes on that basis. The people can vote down the budget in school board elections but all that happens then is that the budget gets kicked over to the township committee, which generally reviews the budget and makes some minor cuts. (The people can also vote to oust the school board members, like any other politicians.) Possibly it’s different in other states.

When my former district signed a contract with the district, I asked where the quid pro quo was and the union rep had no clue what I was talking about. I explained that if we are making concession during difficult economic times, then it should be written into the contract what we get on the back end when the economy turned around. Apparently the union negotiator had never heard of this tactic.