Class Warfare Blog

November 21, 2017

Teachers Unions? Bah, Who Needs Them?

Six years ago, the state of Wisconsin passed the highly controversial 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, which virtually eliminated collective bargaining rights for most public-sector workers, as well as slashed those workers’ benefits, among other changes.

As Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) argued, “We no longer have seniority or tenure. That means we can hire and fire based on merit, we can pay based on performance. That means we can put the best and the brightest in our classrooms and we can pay them to be there.”

Well, did they?

What do you think will happen to an employer who slashes wages and benefits? People will leave their employ. Who leaves first? The people who have the most confidence they can find another job, that is the best workers. Who stays. The sluggards, the unimaginative, the fearful … not all, of course, but a higher concentration of these stay. (Studies have shown this to be the case.)

Action Reaction
An analysis of the effect of Act 10 has found:

  • In the year immediately following the law’s passage, median compensation for Wisconsin teachers decreased by 8.2 percent in inflation-adjusted terms, with median benefits being cut by 18.6 percent and the median salary falling by 2.6 percent. Median salaries and benefits continued to fall during the next four years so that median compensation in the 2015-16 school year was 12.6 percent—or $10,843 dollars—lower than it was before the passage of Act 10.

  • The percentage of teachers who left the profession spiked to 10.5 percent after the 2010-11 school year, up from 6.4 percent in the year before Act 10 was implemented. Exit rates have remained higher than before, with 8.8 percent of teachers leaving after the 2015-16 school year— the most recent school year for which data are available.
  • The percentage of teachers with less than five years of experience increased from 19.6 percent in the 2010-11 school year to 24.1 percent in the 2015-16 school year.
  • Average teaching experience decreased from 14.6 years in the 2010-11 school year to 13.9 in the 2011-12 school year, which is where it remained in the 2015-16 school year.
  • Interdistrict moves—when a teacher leaves one Wisconsin district to teach at another the next school year—has increased from 1.3 percent before the passage of Act 10 to 3.4 percent at the end of the 2014-15 school year.

Are you surprised?

The False Narrative
The core of the false narrative is in plain sight; it is “That means we can hire and fire based on merit, we can pay based on performance.” This is a business model. The problem is that in a business, the “boss” owns the company (or the boss’s boss or the …). The owner has the right to hire and fire inherent in his ownership. In a public school, the “owner” is the public, the taxpayers of the school district. There is no mechanism by which those owners can fire anyone (by state law). Prior to Act 10, the “owner” of each school district elected a school board which carried out negotiations with the employees to determine wages and working conditions. In no school district of which I am aware are teachers getting rich. When you think of employees getting rich, you think of doctors, lawyers, stock brokers, high level executives, but teachers … not so much. Having high educational attainment did not result in abnormally high wages for teachers, but there were tradeoffs: instead of higher salaries, better benefits and working conditions were offered and accepted, through negotiation. Act 10 chopped the head off of local control and took it over at the state level. (Republicans in favor of local control? Not so much.)

So, how did the minions of the schools (principals?) do in hiring the best and the brightest? How did they do in paying for performance? How did they do with getting the bums out of the racket? Aren’t these business types always talking about how important good management is? Was there any effort to improve the quality of the people in charge? No? (No.)

As usual, the actual motives for Act 10 was not in the bullshit offered by proponents. The Koch Brothers-fueled politician, Scott Walker, was executing a typical anti-union action for the billionaire class. Unions are the only organization with enough power to resist the oppression of workers by employers, hence they have to go. (Plus they tend to vote Democrat.)

But actions have reactions. Too bad Scott Walker doesn’t feel any of the reaction … just the teachers and the students and the “owners” of the school district. The Koch Brothers, in reaction, kept pouring money into Scott Walker’s presidential candidacy and into his gubernatorial re-election campaign coffers. If you want quality workers, you gotta pay them!


  1. Thanks for this write-up and research.

    One can look at the Betsy DeVos’ of the world and know instantly that they think education is a for-profit enterprise. They want to own and run and profit from private schools. Higher education is no better. Does any university president ever deserve a million dollar salary? What about the sports team coaches at state run universities? Pay those fools millions of dollars but don’t pay your lowly freshman professors squat.

    Education is a funny topic. One would think that the more $ the better the teacher; and maybe that could work, if you really did pay more $… I’ll have to think on this topic some more.


    Comment by Anony Mole — November 21, 2017 @ 11:06 am | Reply

    • I point out that teachers have accepted less in pay than others of equal education and training. (Basically they are not as motivated by money, otherwise they wouldn’t have pursued a low-wage career … and this is why merit pay never works.)

      They accepted as trade-offs job security (at no cost to the school district) and better pensions (that did have a cost, but not so huge as it is now due to price gouging in another industry). Teachers were not whining about their pay under the old system, but if you cut their pay and benefits by $10,000 or so, they will whine and act (who would not). This is a natural experiment by the way: in the absence of union contracts wages and benefits will be squeezed while productivity will continue to be forced upward.

      So, the more $, the better the teacher. I was not only a teacher but also a union officer and I do not accept that premise. In all my years I never heard a teacher whine about all teachers getting paid according to seniority. They whines about the few incompetents (there are a few) making as much as they did, but often the incompetent was fired years ago and the story was still circulating. The seniority system is not a benefit to teachers! In California where I taught, Highway Patrolmen reach to top of their salary schedule in four years. Most school districts require 20 years to reach the very top. What this is is a way to delay raises. By adding a new layer atop the salary schedule, you are technically giving a raise, but only to a very few people. Anyone who leaves before they reach the top doesn’t get it. Others have to wait a decade or more to get that raise. These are merely mechanisms to delay full salary. And give “fake raises.” Teachers moving from their 6th to 7th years often get what is called a “step increase” in wages. This feels like a raise, the teacher gets more money, but really this is because they were denied that money earlier. And because everyone on schedule is getting a “step increase” that feels like a raise, there is less pressure on actually raises, which would increase salaries at all levels of the salary schedule.

      If I had my druthers, I would have teachers reach top pay after 6-8 years as that is when they have mastered their craft. They aren’t going to get much better from that point onward.

      On Tue, Nov 21, 2017 at 11:06 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — November 21, 2017 @ 11:58 am | Reply

      • Good points to know. Thanks for the ‘education’!
        What about tenure of school administrators? There’s this head of the district, retired, getting $1/4M every year for something (don’t know what). What craziness is that?


        Comment by Anony Mole — November 21, 2017 @ 12:49 pm | Reply

        • I have met some that were worth that much and more (and of course, others … not). There is this assumption that if one is to supervise others, then one should be paid more than the people supervised. I think supervising people is one skill and the skill of the supervised is another and they should have nothing to do with one another. I do not think a great deal of thought went into this.

          Back when there were few administrators, this was a moot point as their total salaries were a drop in the bucket. But as our society gets more complex and more and more “programs” come down the pike from the politicians who think they know how to “change the system,” more and more administrative work was created. Most people at a school need little supervision, but there is a great deal of form filling, box checking, and other things required. Actual leadership coming from administrative positions is rare, with one exception, school principals. Too often this office is politicized but when it is not, school teachers talk about how good or how bad their principal is. A good principal is worth his/her salary many times over. I think the hardest job I have ever witnessed is the job of high school principal.

          On Tue, Nov 21, 2017 at 12:49 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:


          Liked by 1 person

          Comment by Steve Ruis — November 22, 2017 @ 7:19 am | Reply

  2. Madam DeVos is part of the Amway gang.
    A bit off topic, not too far, here in Louisiana the schools are off all this week. Why? Well, this Thursday is turkey day. I am certain when I was in school, yes, we DID have them when I was a kid, we went to school Thanksgiving week until the day before turkey day, as in Wednesday.
    Now, you may see how crappy the education is in this state and how the area-crappers were able to push their BS agenda onto the public schools in Louisiana. Makes me sick.


    Comment by Walter Kronkat — November 21, 2017 @ 10:58 pm | Reply

    • There are spots in California that have made Thanksgiving a holiday week because attendance is so low for Mon-Wed. The kids were being hauled off to Cancun or Mazatlan for a break, don’t you see? The number fo school days is legislated, which they are is largely under the control of the school districts. In the North, up here, we have what you call snow. Have you heard of snow down in LA? ;o) If it is snowing so bad the school buses don’t go out, they declare a “snow day” and kids get the day “off” … but another day gets added to the end to the calendar to make up for it. The number of school days is mandated.

      There is nothing special about the days chosen. There is some tradition, but I define ‘Tradition” as “the way we’ve always done something.” And that way may make sense or not, people don’t look at their traditions much.

      Thirty years ago I began a campaign. At the college I was then at, we took a week and a half recess to celebrate Xmas and New Years, then we came back for a week of classes and then final exams for the Fall semester. I argued this was crazy. We should just start the Fall semester a week and a half or two weeks earlier and finish before Christmas. I argued this for 20 years and as union negotiator I got a calendar agreement the year … I left that district, so I never got to take advantage of the new calendar!

      On Tue, Nov 21, 2017 at 10:58 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — November 22, 2017 @ 7:27 am | Reply

  3. I am still convinced that a major part of the issue we have is the nature of teaching at the K-12 level. The lower the grade the more It is still a female dominated society. Teaching is still considered only a supplemental salary to the main breadwinner. A prime example is the health insurance provided to us. The coverage for the teacher is good. However, try adding a kid or spouse. It will cost you a 1/3 of your pay. Try living on that. When I asked some of my fellow educators what they did either 1. Their kids were on their Husband’s insurance or if single did without. Young married female teachers leave after an average of two to four years. Generally because they follow their husbands. Never have seen it the other way around! I survive well because I am a retired Army NCO. My wife is on Tricare instead of the school’s insurance. The additional pay makes it doable. I have seen an increase in males but beginning at 6th Grade. 5th and below. Total estrogen! I think that if it was a male dominated society at lower instead of higher administrative you would see a difference.


    Comment by Holding The Line In Florida — November 22, 2017 @ 6:58 am | Reply

    • Things are different elsewhere. In California, we all got full family health (and sometimes dental) insurance coverage, whether we had a family or not!

      What you say is true, though I see it differently. Women were confined largely into three work types when I was a boy: educated women could be a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher. Those were the “culturally acceptable” places women could work. (Colleges actively steered women into these endeavors.) Basically, these jobs were under the authority of an executive, under a doctor, or under a principal, typically male. (The would run amok otherwise!) Then in the 1970’s and 80’s Saint Ronnie presided over an economy that required many women to enter the job market to maintain a decent life. The number of women working rocketed up. Soon, women were entering all kinds of fields, engineering, construction, publishing, you name it. The women previously trapped in the three main female occupations, fled for other (greener) pastures. (For example, most real estate agents when I was a boy were old white guys in pork pie hats. Now the field is dominated by women.) And every time they fled, wages in those fields went up. This told you wages in those fields were suppressed. The argument was “you didn’t have to pay a woman as much as a man because she had her husband as primary wage earner” and yes, they said that out loud and to our faces.

      In occupations still dominated by women, wages are still suppressed and teaching is one of those (K-8 for sure, I don’t know about the others). One exception was nursing. The expansion of health and health maintenance facilities led to a severe nursing shortage (exacerbated by the brain drain off to other fields) and as nurses got scarce, their wages went up much closer to their actual value (can’t say that about working conditions, though).

      On Wed, Nov 22, 2017 at 6:58 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — November 22, 2017 @ 7:42 am | Reply

      • Yeah, you were in a civilized state. Down here in the Right to Get Screwed states, they give us the least possible amount and take away more and give it to the con artists and swindlers who make up the Education Industry down here. We had a Superintendent who with great pride proclaimed she held the cost of schools down by refusing real pay increases for teachers. She was elected for 12 years running. And they wonder why morale down here is the pits!!! The Union down here is gutted. The only real benefit we have now is paying a lawyer if we are sued and the state now gives us the same benefit in an effort to reduce membership. Collective bargaining is semi-useless. It all depends upon the Superintendent and School Board. If they are sympathetic or under fire by the voters we get crumbs, if not, then screw you. Without the right to Strike, which is illegal here, we have no real power. We will just get fired if we try and they will open a new charter run by the family of some state legislator. The only thing we have going for us is that most parents seem to think we are doing a semi decent job, but we are in the Trumpist of Trump land here as well. The weather is nice though and the beaches are fine. You mentioned Real Estate. Exactly my point as well. You don’t have to pay them and you can’t survive on the earnings and the benefits are non-existent. The money is in the brokerage. Usually a male down here. Used to have one as a companion. Busted her ass and got nothing. Sold one house in a year. Down here, throw a rock into a crowd of ten people, and you will hit at least four realtors. If you plan of living as one, you have to great connections, i.e. be attached to a Resort with certain privileges and rights, or have a spouse with a real job to pay the bills. When you make a deal, then it is great and extra cash. But they can be few and far between.


        Comment by Holding The Line In Florida — November 22, 2017 @ 9:02 am | Reply

        • Yeah, real estate as a career has been gutted. I am constantly surprised that we have allowed right to work laws get passed. They basically say that workers are not allowed collective behavior, when everybody else does it. Lawyers have bar associations (and lobbyists). Doctors have the AMA, stamp collectors have organizations. there is even an association of Playing Card Association Executives, believe it or not. Business executives, however, are allowed to hire union busting “consultants” to make sure a worker’s union does form ever even in non-right to work states. At the same time, they are members of organizations that help them oppress their workers.

          The only reason behind this is that unions showed the power to oppose the oppression of the elites in business, so they had to go. The elites brook no opposition. They buy politicians to ignore the desires of their constituents. The rig the system for their behalf. And why? Why? The only answer is greed. There is no other explanation that makes any sense whatsoever.

          On Wed, Nov 22, 2017 at 9:02 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:



          Comment by Steve Ruis — November 22, 2017 @ 9:34 am | Reply

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