Farmers vs. Teachers?

From the MRW Water Cooler:

I don’t need a fight with the teacher’s union any more than I need one with PETA, or OSHA, or the EPA. And as the son of two teachers, I don’t need any trouble with my parents either. (Believe me, nobody want that.) But this business in Wisconsin is fascinating, and this article goes right to the heart of something we’ve discussed here at length – the changing definition of a “good job.”

It’s interesting what we value, and how those values change over time. But only on a perpetually full stomach could we allow such a disparity to exist between the people we pay to educate our kids, and the people we pay to feed them.

Victor Davis Hanson
On Teachers and Others

In judging teachers’ claims, we might compare their lives with the lives of, say, farmers or welders or interstate truckers.
So far the angry teachers of Wisconsin have not yet won over the public. They have not convinced the majority that, in an age of staggering budget deficits, they — or, indeed, public employees in general — must as a veritable birthright enjoy salary, benefits, and pensions on average far more generous than those of their private-sector counterparts, who make up the majority of taxpayers.

Teachers are right that the crisis transcends compensation. Yet why, others might ask, would teachers’ unions oppose merit pay? Why should someone who did not join the union still have to pay its dues? Why should the state have to collect the dues from employee paychecks on behalf of the union? Moreover, when these questions are posed amid a landscape of teachers skipping classes to protest, urging students to join them, and soliciting fraudulent doctors’ notes to cover their cancellations of classes — while their supporters in the legislature hide out to prevent a quorum and thereby subvert the democratic process reaffirmed last November — the public becomes further estranged from their cause.

All of this evoked my own memories of a teaching life juxtaposed with farming in the private sector. After receiving a Ph.D. in 1980 I returned home to work the trees and vines for five years in hopes of helping to restore a run-down farm. I then was employed first as a part-time teacher and then as a professor at California State University, Fresno, for 21 years (1984–2004). Some of that time I continued to farm on weekends and in the summers.

The experience was schizophrenic. In farming, almost everyone I met was constantly hustling — welders, independent truckers, contractors. There was no guaranteed income, no pension other than Social Security, and no health benefits of any kind. I bought a Farm Bureau–sponsored private health plan with a $1,000 deductible — catastrophic coverage that I never found occasion to use — and paid cash for doctor’s office visits. My first two children’s deliveries maxed out my Visa card.

There was no sick leave for the self-employed. A day with the flu meant the amount of work to do the next day doubled. Weekly compensation was not compensation at all, but rather an advance on an operating loan from the bank: If the crop came in and sold, and if at the end of the year such income exceeded expenses (I remember my first year, in 1980, we borrowed at 17 percent, and prices for everything from sulfur to fertilizer went up 10 to 15 percent in mere months), then one earned something for the year’s aggregate labor. If not (as in 1983, when, without explanation, the price of raisins crashed from $1,200 to $450 a ton), then one not merely earned nothing, but in effect paid for the privilege of working — a common, humiliating fate for the strapped pizza-parlor owner, the independent window-cleaner, or the car dealer. I figured that the 1983–84 operating losses meant that I owed the bank about $12 an hour for each hour I had driven the tractor, pruned, or irrigated, the entire time unknowingly paying for the privilege of hard physical labor. Again, all that is too familiar for legions of realtors, insurance salesmen, contractors, and the variously self-employed.

Originally Posted by dirtysal
I also understand (but can’t relate) why these union member are upset over collective bargaining being ousted. They seem to see it as their “rights” being taken away. I can’t, for the life of me, understand how this “luxury” can be called a “right”? I just don’t get it with my simple mind.

Hi Sal

My own simple mind is similarly challenged, especially around the business of “collective bargaining.” Doesn’t the government currently forbid “collective bargaining” in the private sector? Don’t we frown on things like the formation of monopolies and the practice of price fixing?

If private corporations were allowed to collude and fix prices, the consumer would pay dearly, because those all important competitive forces would simply vanish from the market. (If “collective bargaining” were allowed in the airline industry for instance, the carriers could all get together and agree to double the price of air travel tomorrow. Or triple it. Can you imagine this happening in the food industry?) The teachers union is currently allowed to do what every private industry would love to do – eliminate the competition, and charge the consumer the maximum amount possible. Extraordinary. How is “collective bargaining” in the public sector any different, and why did we ever allow it in the first place?


Read more of this interesting, eclectic and enlightening conversation that covers everything from farmers, teachers, unions and the economy then join in with your thoughts and comments.  Join the Water Cooler Conversation “Farmers vs. Teachers?” here

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