OPINION | EDITORIAL: It's a bargain

Taxpayers win one

These columns have been accused of being anti-union, which isn't quite correct. Ever since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, Americans of all stripes have understood the importance of union representation.

Which is why we celebrate a Labor Day every year. In a country in which union membership is falling, and has fallen since the first Reagan term, we still put aside an entire three-day weekend just to celebrate Labor! What a country.

It's as if Americans understand the importance of organized labor, and its disadvantages. (Unions represented about 1 in 5 Americans in 1983, but about 1 in 10 today.)

It doesn't help capital-L Labor's argument when public employees get together to collectively bargain for salary and benefits. Especially when those public employees can work to elect those who make the decisions. It's like bargaining with yourself--or even better, bargaining with those who owe you their jobs. Which brings us to teachers unions and Senate Bill 341 in the Arkansas Legislature.

The House and Senate have both passed the bill, and now it goes to the governor. The legislation would bar many public employees from participating in collective bargaining through a union. It doesn't affect cities and counties, and exempts police officers, firefighters and certain transit workers.

John Moritz' story earlier this week included the specifics. And also a statement from the Arkansas Education Association, which notes: "Students and student-centered issues are at the heart of our advocacy efforts. At the end of the day, our calling is to support students and utilize our professional expertise to help students learn and grow. It's disappointing a majority of the Legislature felt educators alone do not deserve the right to negotiate better teaching and learning conditions."

It is a lesson in itself to see how the union bosses respond when challenged. "Educators alone"? The legislation would apply to state workers and court employees, too. It specifically exempts police and firefighters, but "educators alone" aren't being picked on.

And if most people thought that "students and student-centered issues" were "at the heart" of union efforts--instead of teacher and teacher-centered issues such as retirement, seniority, and patronage--then the teachers' unions would have more support from the public. As it stands, there is very little support for collective bargaining among teachers, inasmuch as it is disappearing from school districts. This bill would seem to make a ban permanent.

Nothing against unions, y'all. Teachers can still join them--and rely on them when they need the help against the administration or the school district.

But salary negotiations with those who you've helped elect? Most taxpayers don't have that luxury. And they notice when "sway" turns into "whip hand." Especially when it's their money being spent.