Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Why They Fight

Overshadowed by the breaking news of Osama Bin Laden's death on Sunday was the announcement from the state's largest teachers union--the Wisconsin Education Association Council--that it was cancelling its 2011 Fall Convention.  For kids, that Convention meant two days off of school in October every year.  For parents, it meant an annual scramble to find daycare or babysitting for younger students--because nobody else is getting those two days off.  For school districts, it meant an extra two days tacked on to the end of the school calendar in June.  And for teachers--based on reported attendance at the Convention every year--it basically meant two paid holidays.

WEAC President Mary Bell says the Convention is being dumped because--without collective barganing power--her union could no longer guarantee that districts could be strong-armed into giving teachers those two days off with pay.  She also bemoans the "loss" of the "best personal development opportunity offered to teachers every year."

This of course leads to the question many of us "uneducated" folks in the private sector would ask:  "Why not just have the Convention on a weekend?"  That of course would make the most sense.  The Wisconsin Broadcasters Association holds its workshops and awards banquets on weekends.  Why?  Because the vast majority of us have to work Monday through Friday.  Besides, I get paid to be here in the studio or out covering news--not to sit in a convention center and learn about strategies to win my next round of negotiations with my employer.

Also consider this question:  do any private sector businesses shut down to allow employees to attend a convention?  Does Best Buy close up during the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas every year?  Is it impossible to get something to eat during the Grocers Association or the Wisconsin Restaurant Association's annual meetings?  No.  And let's not forget the three months or so of summer break that could host an entire week's worth of convention time if so needed.

Bell also lamented during her Sunday conference call that WEAC is already budgeting for the loss of revenues expected if school districts are no longer required to withdraw union dues from employee paychecks.  If "solidarity in this fight" is so great, why would you have to worry about losing anything when such a contribution become voluntary?  I would think the incredible value provided by the union and its executives would lead members to gladly continue handing over the cash--and maybe even pay a little bit more.  Because this whole thing is about rights--not money--right?

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