In August of 1981, just a few days after Dee and I were married, President Ronald Reagan did what was thought by many to be unthinkable. He fired nearly all of the nation’s air traffic controllers. More than 11,000 lost their jobs over a dispute regarding salary, working conditions, and their demand to reduce the number of hours worked each week from 40 to 32.
The air traffic controllers went on strike on August 3. President Reagan immediately gave an ultimatum. Either return to work within 48 hours, or lose your job. The union stood strong and two days later, it was over. New controllers were hired and in spite of grave concerns about airline safety, there were no problems apart from temporary slowdowns. Later that year, PATCO was decertified as a union.
Today we face a different challenge to the nation. In many locations across the country (especially large cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago), school districts have not fully reopened even though the science has clearly indicated that our teachers and students are safe from COVID-19. Children desperately want to be back in school and most parents want life to return to normal. And to be fair, the vast majority of teachers also want to be back in the classroom. But teachers unions are holding out, exercising political influence and power, making numerous demands, and preventing a return to normalcy.
Unlike President Reagan 40 years ago, President Biden seems unwilling to make any demands of the teachers unions. Of course, far be it from him to make demands of any organization that made significant contributions and provided endorsements for his political campaign (and other D candidates). No wonder he has said nothing about the issue. Meanwhile, the children are suffering!
Our children are missing so much, but academics is only a part of the issue. At school, children receive nutritious meals, counseling for emotional difficulties, necessary socialization, and wholesome physical activity. Also, many students are able to get help regarding abuse. All of this is missing with our children at home. At least a few educational ‘leaders’ are saying that the schools might not reopen under normal conditions until the fall of 2022. And consider this: we do not know the long-term effect of children missing school for a year or more. How will this affect their lives when it’s time for college, or the job market, or even later in life? We don’t know.
Meanwhile, some teachers get to stay home while ‘earning’ their full salary. Yes it’s true that many teachers have returned to classrooms and others are leading distance learning classes for students, but not every student has Internet access and/or a home computer. What are they to do? There are exceptions to this and it looks as though some teachers are comfortable living a life of relative ease while receiving full salary without actually earning their pay. A case in point is the Chicago school district, where a number of teachers had time to put together a dance video that went viral. Even Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot lost patience, a rarity among liberal politicians who almost always relate quite well to union leadership.
Another example is the Los Angeles teachers union (UTLA or United Teachers Los Angeles), which has called for numerous concessions since last summer, not all of which are related to teaching or the health of the children they supposedly serve. In July they wanted state-wide economic policy changes and social justice initiatives to be enacted. That same month their demands included de-funding the police, a moratorium on charter schools, housing and financial benefits for illegal aliens, and the passing of a ‘wealth tax’. Most of these demands have nothing to do with providing an education for the legal resident children of Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, the children of Los Angeles and many other cities, suburbs, and even rural communities across this nation are being cheated out of the education and other benefits that come with school attendance. Who is speaking out for these children and teens? Also, why are teachers unions exerting their power to enact social policy, more than they are striving to provide a quality education for our children?
The science indicates schools are safe. Transmission from child to teacher or even child to child is extremely rare – so rare as to be almost non-existent. In addition, multiplied millions of dollars have been spent on making classrooms ready for students, including everything from plastic separators for classrooms to air filtration upgrades. Plenty of concessions have been made and government has paid the bill.
There are plenty of problems in public education, even in ‘normal’ times, but our nation’s children need to get back to school and parents need to return to work. It’s time to force the unions to set aside their differences with the people they serve and get their teachers back in the classroom.
My proposed solution? Tell the non-working teachers that they have one week to return to the classroom. Otherwise, they will be fired and their union decertified, just like the air traffic controllers 40 years ago. Later, these teachers might be offered their job back, but at a reduced rate of salary – say 75% of their former level. Also remember that the salary, benefits, and retirement for the teachers of our children is all paid for by the generosity of the tax-payer – you and me. We have the right to expect that our children and grandchildren will be well-taught and cared for.
After a full year of this nonsense, we have reached an emergency situation and drastic action is required. Our children are suffering academically and emotionally. Some are dying. They are being used by unscrupulous men and women who hold power over millions of our children and teens. It’s time to end the power of these selfish people and the unions, particularly those that make stupid and unreasonable demands. Get our children back to school and get their lives back to normal – without further delay.
After all, what will we miss if teachers lose their jobs and the unions lose their power? Very little, since many children aren’t in school anyway!
© Jeffery J. Michaels / Plain English Publications 2021
(Quotations allowed with attribution to this blog)