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Is Merit Pay Anti-Union?

Scott Bannon Posted by Scott Bannon

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President Obama seemed to embrace merit pay for teachers today while speaking on his vision of education and already pundits are claiming this to be a move sure to alienate his union supporters.

I would completely disagree with that assumption.

Having spent years in a union position myself while working for the USPS. I can’t think of a single reason why unions wouldn’t also support a merit based pay scale that is fair to labor and management.

Despite the opinions of many, unions aren’t designed to simply “get everything they can” from management. Unions exist to protect workers from exploitations, period.

Have there been abuses by various union leaders over the years? Absolutely. Like any organization run by people, unions are susceptible to being mislead by the greed and even malicious human faults of their leadership.

However, that doesn’t mean that every union leader or local is under such negative influence.

A merit based pay system which doesn’t rely on artificial testing scores–which are bad for our children–nor unobtainable objectives–which would be unfair to the teachers; seems on the surface to be something that teachers’ unions could accept and quality teachers could excel with.

Having belonged to one of the largest and strongest unions in the nation while at the USPS, I never witnessed anything that made me think the union was acting against management or efficiency reforms.

In fact, of the few instances where an employee acted out-of-line and I wrongly expected the union to circle the wagons to protect them, what I actually saw was the union ensure the employee received proper representations and that any disciplinary actions were within the parameters clearly spelled out in the labor agreement that both the union and management had accepted.

In other words, the union acted to protect the employee from exploitations, but not from deserved disciplinary actions. It did what it was supposed to, but no more.

I saw first-hand during my time with the USPS that unions can and do perform a vital function in the workplace, but that isn’t to block management just for the sake of blocking management as many people wrongly believe.

As the President talked today of rewarding teachers who excelled I didn’t hear anything that I felt a union would necessarily oppose provided those rewards weren’t created in such a manner as could be used to exploit teachers who didn’t always excel.

That’s the balancing act that must be performed with a rewards system for fairness. It’s perfectly acceptable to reward the best, provided you don’t also punish the average.

It isn’t about protecting bad teachers or blocking the rewards of top teachers. What the unions should be concerned with is simply protecting the majority of teachers who are going to fall into the “come to work and do their job” category. Those who neither excel nor under-perform, but do what they’re supposed to every day.

As long as that protection is included in any reward or reform systems going forward I don’t see the teachers’ unions objecting too loudly to them.

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