Friday, March 04, 2011

Seniority should not make teachers immune to layoffs

Herein lies the problem with collective bargaining, you get laws and policies that might actually hurt students as New York is learning, seniority should not make teachers immune to layoffs, but that is exactly what happens:

If, as seems likely, New York City must lay off thousands of teachers
because of budget problems, Mayor Michael Bloombergwould like a say in who goes
and who stays. Topping his list of those who should lose their jobs are
2,671 teachers who have been rated unsatisfactor over the past five years, 882
teachers who lack a teaching license, 291 whom an arbitrator found to be
incompetent or guilty of malfeasance and 183 with recrods of excessive lateness
or absenteeism. But state law enshrining the policy of "last in, first
out" doesnt' allow performance to be a factor and that means good teachers -
possibly even great teachers - are likely to be forced out of the

The last hired, first fired policy results from years of collective bargaining whereby the unions and their leadership develop all of the institutional memory that results from negotiating multiple contracts over time. The politicians, particularly at the local level, tend to either be transitory--that is moving up the political ladder or leaving office after a short period of time--or they remain in offce due to support from the unions. As a result, there is not a significant check on the long-term strategy of moving the goal posts as step or two each year. If a new union came in and demanded a "last hired, first fired" structure, they would not get. But if you start by setting up seniority rights on other aspects, such as transfers or benefits, then over time the power of the long term teachers grow and it is over time that they take more and more benefits and power.

The poltical bodies that are supposed to be a check on the matter tend to focus only on the short term, that is the next budget, or the next couple of years. Teachers unions, on the other hand, can afford to take the long view and so they do.

As a check on this power, the trick has to be to completely scrap every contract and every provision to start from scratch every time. There cannot be hold over provisions, side agreements or addenda that remain in place from contract to contract. These added on provisions are often brought in through incorporation by reference, rather than explicitly being written out in the new contract. The political body, the school board or local city or county council, don't have the resources or institutional knowledge to know what the incorporated documents say or don't say. But the union negotiators do, having spent years and multiple negotiating cycles to learn these provisions. But if the contract is a single document, no references, no incorporations, and no addenda that aren't renegotiated each time, the resulting contract would be free from these last hired, first fired provisions that might actually end up hurting a school system or students.

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