Teachers are very important people within this society: they are the ones who are primarily responsible for ensuring that the new generation acquires the knowledge and skills needed for participating as adults within society in a meaningful way. The purpose of the present sample essay provided by Ultius is to discuss the current social and economic issue of union rights for teachers. In order to do this effectively, the essay will begin with a general overview of the concept of the union itself. After this, the essay will proceed to consider the argument in favor of union rights for teachers, and then turn to consider the argument against union rights for teachers. Finally, the essay will engage in a critical reflection in which it will be suggested that despite the drawbacks of union rights, it would still be far better for teachers to have such rights than to not have them.
Before discussing the specific issue of union rights for teachers, it will be worth clarifying the nature and purpose of the workers' union itself, as such. This is how the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO has defined the purpose of the labor union: "A union is an organized group of workers who collectively use their strength to have a voice in their workplace. Through a union, workers have a right to impact wages, work hours, benefits, workplace health and safety, job training and other work-related issues" (paragraph 1). The main idea is that through the medium of the union, individual workers who may be relatively powerless on their own may be able together to compel their employers to meet their demands regarding a wide range of work-related issues.
A concrete example may help illustrate what is at stake here. If a single worker decided that he would not be willing to work for less than 10 dollars an hour, then this would simply put the worker out of a job, insofar as other potential workers would be willing to take his job for less than that rate. However, if a whole union of workers collectively said that they will not work for less than 10 dollars an hour, then this would put the employers in a conundrum, since there would be no one else to hire (assuming that all potential workers are members of the union). This points toward the basic fact that in order for a union to be effective, it must be cohesive: all the workers or professionals within a given field must agree to participate in the terms set by the union, as opposed to going off and doing their own things, as it were. The union is an almost classical example of strength in numbers: it only works if everyone involved agrees on acting toward making it work.
This also perhaps calls attention to why strikebreakers (or "scabs") have always had such a low social and moral reputation among workers. As a blogger named Melissa has written, strikes are "only effective when the work needed by the 'boss' (be it a single business, a whole industry or an entire nation) doesn't get done; if replacement workers do the strikers' jobs, the strike usually fails. As you can imagine, those replacement workers are not, and historically have not, been very popular" (paragraph 1). Essentially, the replacement workers would not belong to the union, and they would break the solidarity of the union by offering employers an alternative option for getting the work done, which would of course undermine the bargaining power of the union as a whole. These scabs are thus general seen as traitors against the working class, who care more about their personal gain and profit than they do about the general well-being of their community as a whole. A union fundamentally cannot work without mutual identification and trust among the workers of a given profession.
To start with, then, union rights for teachers can be said to be a good idea for the simple reason that there exists a basic conflict between the administrative ethos that often governs schools on the one hand and the pedagogical ethos that governs the teaching profession on the other. For example, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), AFL-CIO has suggested the following: "Today, the UFT and other teacher unions around the country continue to play important roles in protecting the rights of teachers, especially in the current climate of school reform. . . . When experienced teachers must work under the control of an inexperienced principal, they need the protection of their union against arbitrary and unwise decisions" (paragraph 8). More generally, teachers need some way to stand up for their own rights and advocate for the validity of their own professional experience in the face of conflicting input from powerful stakeholders. Union rights for teachers is premised on the basic idea that teachers will be able to make their voices more effectively heard if they were to coordinate their actions and speak to other stakeholders with one united voice.
An argument in favor of teachers' union rights can also be made from the angle of student achievement. As Ravani has noted: "There are studies that refute the position of conservatives and assert that teachers unions have a positive effect on student achievement. . . . State education funding per student tends to be higher in unionized, higher-achieving states" (paragraph 2). This correlation between teacher union membership and student achievement begins to make a great deal of sense if one simply bears in mind the fact that teachers' unions are meant to secure what teachers perceive to be necessary for their own effective performance, and effective teacher performance is correlated with effective student achievement in an almost obviously causal fashion.
More generally, the point can be made that the capitalist economic system is built upon the oppression of workers, and that workers—including teachers—thus need to develop some kind of protection against this dynamic through the consolidation of their collective bargaining power. The case that capitalism is in fact fundamentally exploitative in its core essence has been made once and for all by Karl Marx, over the course of his ruthlessly thorough analysis of the logic of capitalism across his major work Capital. Although Marx was perhaps off-base when it comes to ideological matters, there can be no real question that his structural analysis is still as valid as it ever was—as can be seen, for example, through phenomena such as the popularity of Sanders' campaign for the American presidency. In any event, within a generally exploitative context, the suggestion can be that teachers (just like everyone else) need union rights in order to protect themselves from the predations of the economic system as a whole and ensure that they maintain work conditions that will actually enable them to get their work done.
A key argument that can me made against union rights for teachers is that the kind of collective mentality cultivated by unions can often get in the way of real and individual professional experience. Hemingway, for example, has written the following: "Getting rid of bad teachers is really a way to help good ones. Tenure and seniority rules, which unions defend vigorously, often keep talented teachers from advancing or getting the jobs they want. Reading headlines about a 'Teacher of the Year' being let go due to asinine 'first hired, last fired policies is something of a regular occurrence" (paragraph 5). In other words, the power structure of the union tends to operate along fairly traditional line, valuing criteria such as age and seniority over raw individual talent. This has a conservative effect on the teaching profession as a whole and prevents good teachers from working to the fullest of their potentials and having a maximum positive effect on students and societies.
Chougule has also reinforced this point in his own article on this subject: "Great teachers are performing one of our nation's foremost duties, and deserve to be rewarded accordingly. Unfortunately, unions have long supported policies that protect bad teachers at the expense of dedicated educators and students" (paragraph 2). From the perspective of the union, the fact that the teacher is a professional teacher is more important than whether that teacher happens to be a good or a bad teacher; the most salient point is that the teacher belongs to the union and must thus be protected. This kind of almost tribalistic mentality can seriously get in the way of true individual excellence, respect for which has always been a part of the natural American ethos. As such, it could be argued that unions generally harm the teaching profession as a whole by tacitly refusing to make distinction of value or quality, thereby cultivating a general ethos of groupthink and mediocrity.
Reflecting on the general purpose of labor unions and the arguments for and against teachers' union rights, two main points can be made. The first is that teachers as an aggregate clearly do stand in need of protection from other professional aggregates, such as administrators and related people; this is true in an economic and structural sense, irrespective of the skill level of any given individual teacher. The second is that the internal functioning of teachers' unions is in fact quite problematic, insofar as it favors a kind of nepotism and archaic value structure that has little place for an honest evaluation of the talents and skills of teachers; in short, the unions are very far from functioning as meritocracies. Within the macro-level context of the importance of teachers' unions, then, it is still not only possible but even necessary to remain mindful of the real problems internally caused by teachers' unions for the teaching profession itself.
In this context, it would clearly be absurd to argue that teachers' unions are inherently worthless simply because of some of the problematic effects that they produce. Rather, the reasonable conclusion would be that despite its flaws, the labor union in general and the teachers' union in particular is an essential structure within the context of the capitalist economic system that gives workers and teachers the capacity to collectively advocate for their rights in a way that no one worker or teacher would be able to successfully do alone. It is clear, of course, that the collective mentality of the teachers' union and the disrespect for individual talent produced by that mentality are problematic and must be addressed in some meaningful way. However, the way forward probably consists of reform rather than revolution. That is, the teachers' union cannot be said to just structurally be a bad thing; rather, the better conclusion would be that the teachers' union is essentially sound in its structure, and that it just needs some reforms in its actual operations in order to maximize the good and minimize the bad that it does for the teaching profession as a whole.
In summary, the present essay has consisted of a discussion of union rights for teachers. After introducing the general concept of the labor union, the essay proceeded to consider the arguments for and against union rights for teachers, and then finally critically reflected on these arguments. A key conclusion that has emerged here is that within the current economic system, teachers' unions are vital for protecting the real rights of teachers from encroachment by other stakeholders, and that the unions thus perform a real professional service, even despite the obvious drawbacks that must be acknowledged regarding union operations.
American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO. "Why Teacher Unions Are Good for the Teachers—and the Public." Author, n.d. Web. 18 Aug. 2016. <http://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/winter-2006-2007/why-teacher-unions-are-good-teachers-and>.
Chougule, Akash. "Fighting Back against Teachers' Unions: Saving Education in America." Townhall. 18 Jun. 2014. Web. 18 Aug. 2016. <http://townhall.com/columnists/akashchougule/2014/06/18/fighting-back-against-"teachers-unions-saving-education-in-america-n1852652>.
Hemingway, Mark. "Time Magazine Is Attacked for Telling the Truth about Teachers Unions." Weekly Standard. 29 Oct. 2014. Web. 18 Aug. 2016. <http://www.weeklystandard.com/time-magazine-is-attacked-for-telling-the-truth-about-teachers-unions/article/817663>.
Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. "What Is a Union?" L.A. Union. n.d. Web. 18 Aug. 2016. <http://launionaflcio.org/what-is-a-union>.
Marx, Karl. Capital, Volume 1. New York: Penguin, 1992. Print.
Melissa. "Why Are Strikebreakers Called Scabs?" Today I Found Out. 25 Mar. 2016. Web. 18 Aug. 2016. <http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2014/03/strikebreakers-called-scabs/>.
Ravani, Gary. "Why Public Education Needs Teachers' Unions." EdSource. 27 Jul. 2014. Web. 18 Aug. 2016. <https://edsource.org/2014/why-public-education-needs-teachers- sunions/65723>.