Blaska's Blog, double wrapped for freshness, sets today's topic: what if they broke the union and everyone lived happily ever after?
If there is a Republican on the Madison School Board, s/he has never given me the secret handshake. None of the 7 members of the Board of Education has ever descended into the cavernous catacombs deep beneath the concrete of the city to convene in our clandestine, candle-lit, conservative conclaves.
No, Madison's school boarders have their tickets punched by the local Democrat(ic) Party or by Progressive Dane, not the Grand Old Party.
Lucy Mathiak, Arlene Silviera, and Beth Moss are not Koch Brothers, folks. There is no "Rush Room" at the Ruth Doyle administration building. This is the Madison School Board -- liberalism spoken here! The land of 4-year-old kindergarten, gender role sensitivity, and full partner benefits.
But it is becoming clear that the Madison School Board is breathing a little more freely today thanks to Gov. Scott Walker and his incipient collective bargaining reforms. Tossing its collective head back a little bit and kicking its hooves in the springtime meadows of freedom.
You would, too, if for the last four decades you had to kowtow to John Matthews and his Madison Teachers Incorporated. It was Matthews who closed down Madison schools for four days in February during the Siege of the Capitol; Matthews who sent teachers to picket Briarpatch, an agency for troubled children; Matthews who called elected school board members "public enemy #1."
As a recent comment on thedailypage even in the wake of February-March's Siege of the Capitol, spoke truth to power: John Mathews and MTI make it difficult in this very liberal town to love the teachers union.
But now the gun Matthews has for so long held to the school board is making a feeble clicking sound.
Debasing the language of outrage
Our story begins with the wonderful DailyPage article on how Matthews is so upset by changes in the collective bargaining agreements that he calls them -- with typical hyperbole -- "inhumane." In one of those changes, teachers would no longer be able to choose the over-priced WPS health insurance -- on whose board of directors Matthews served. They would still get a generous health insurance benefit, however, which is more than a lot of non-teachers can say. Another beef Matthews has illustrates the picky picky nature of union contracts: the board scratched a "professional development visitation day" that permits teachers to learn by observing another classroom in or out of the district.
Inhumane! The word typifies the union's role in indoctrinating its members to believe they are victims of a of a Rwandan-like "assault on working people."
Now, understand, the school board negotiated this contract in March, well before Walker's public employee bargaining changes could go into effect (and they remain paralyzed by a court restraining order). The school board, as its conservative critics point out, could have waited for the full force of the reforms to kick in and gotten even more bargaining power. Thus, unlike state employees, teachers are not being required to pay 12 percent of their health insurance costs.
Even so, Matthews is acting the ingrate.
School board president Maya Cole tells Isthmus reporter Lynn Welch that Matthews was at the negotiating table and could have said no at any time but did not.
Instead, she says he employed negotiating tactics that made the process difficult.
Enter school board member Ed Hughes to administer the wedgie. In What's Bugging John Matthews?, Hughes tells just how counter-productive the divisive union v. management template -- once relevant in the industrial age -- has become in an education-based (one would think) 21st Century, especially in a liberal town like Madison.
(In an Isthmus feature story from three years ago, even teachers union apologist Fighting Ed Garvey called Matthews "a throwback to a different era." And he meant it as a compliment!)
The sky hasn't fallen
Hughes cuts to the heart of the matter: "The union draws support from conveying the impression that it's only the efforts of the union and the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement that protect teachers from the predations of a "hostile" school board intent on imposing 'inhumane' changes in working conditions."
... if the collective bargaining agreement were to disappear, the school district wouldn't immediately resort to a management equivalent of pillaging the countryside. ... because ... like nearly all employers, values its employees and understands the benefits of being perceived as a good place to work.
But when employers aren't interested in running sweat-shops, organizations set up to prevent sweat-shop conditions aren't all that necessary. It may be that John Matthews' ramped-up rhetoric is best understood not as a protest against school district over-reaching in bargaining, since that did not happen, but as a cry against the possibility of his own impending irrelevance.
Ed Hughes then says something that Gov. Walker has been saying. (It is why time is on his side.)
It does not serve the union's interests when the union loses some of its power and things don't seem to get worse for teachers as a result.
The teachers union and its allies, particularly the campus Teaching Assistants Assn., provided much of the shock troops for the Siege on the Capitol -- two-thirds of MTI's members walked off the job in violation of its contract.
Proud professionals instead of bitter victims
Have we had a cooling-off period in the months since the illegal occupation of the Capitol, the fake sick notes, the hounding of Senator Grothman, that ominous Teamsters Union truck, John Nichols and his bullhorn? The do-over of the November general elections failed with the re-election of Justice Prosser. We'll see what the recalls bring (I'm predicting Republican control of the Senate does NOT change hands) but many, including the WI State Journal's Chris Rickert, are already weary of the perpetual political campaign season. We may be at the end of the beginning, in Churchill's words.
Wisconsin's teachers can enter the threshold of positive change if they can outgrow Matthews and the more bitter hotheads in the teacher's lounges. They have an opportunity to shed their self-image as victims and to replace confrontation with a new era of collaboration.
Our public school teachers can adopt the shared governance approach of the better universities (including the anti-union UW-Madison) and, for that matter, of the nurses at St. Mary's Hospital. Instead of dishonest union hooligans they can act like results-oriented professionals and be treated with the respect - even the resources - they deserve.