A Real Piece of Work

Lloyd Graff

Chicago Public Schools teachers with Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis

Chicago Public Schools are laying off 462 teachers, because the budget is a hopeless mess and the Teachers Union is much more interested in protecting the pensions of incumbent and retired teachers than retaining young untenured teachers. Meanwhile, Charlotte, North Carolina, is desperate for 200 teachers to start the school year, and the suburbs of San Francisco are bending their certification standards to fill their teacher needs.

But I doubt many of the Chicago layoffs will quickly pack their bags for Charlotte or the Bay Area. It’s just too hard for most people to make those kinds of quick shifts.

It’s a different story in the shale oil fields of North Dakota, where so many folks have been living in trailers because they couldn’t build homes fast enough last year in the Williston Basin. But few of those folks would pick up their lives to get teaching jobs in San Francisco.

The job market is not really fluid and borderless. The national unemployment rate is supposedly 5.3%, but I think the number doesn’t make sense. There should be significant wage pressure at 5.3%, but the government says there is little.

There are very few strikes these days. The push to raise the minimum wage is politically and ideologically driven without a widespread national clamor. People are still stitching together part-time jobs and the demand for independent contractors rather than full time staff seems to be here to stay despite that bright 5.3% number.

The U.S. workforce participation levels are extremely low by historical standards, 62.6%. The last time we were at that level was 1977 and Star Wars, was the flick of the day. In 1977, 30 million people worked in government and services. Today, 80 million plus are in those fields. In 1977, 19 million people worked in manufacturing. Today, it’s 12 million. Women have jumped into the workforce and men have bailed out. Eight of 10 men were working in 1977, today it’s seven.

One thing has baffled me for years in the machining field. Why does almost everybody tell me how difficult it is to hire people to run machines, when I know there are plenty of able people lurking in jobs that are not their cup of tea or are at firms that are closing or in trouble?

Several months ago we were looking for a screw machine rebuilder with setup experience for Graff-Pinkert. Noah Graff made a study of viable advertising methods and we chose to do a campaign with Career Builder. To my surprise, we found many interesting candidates, some from Chicago and others willing to move. We were offering a liberal wage and health insurance package, but I would not call it a wage disrupter.

What it indicated to me was that many potential hirers are too passive and use pedestrian methods to reach out for employees. There are people out there looking to better themselves.

The Charlotte school system should be calling Chicago for the emails and phone numbers of the teachers who are getting pink slipped and send recruiters to Chicago on the next plane.

But the best teachers may not even be teaching today. My three granddaughters were fortunate enough to be taught in their pre-school by a former marketing person at Bank of America. After he had been downsized out of his job at Bank of America he came to the school to work as a maintenance man, but when the opportunity arose he morphed into a superb teacher of young children.

My belief is that most young people do not have enough life experience to know what kind of work will be fulfilling and financially rewarding for them to make a career choice at an early age. I think one reason for the declining work participation rate, especially for men, is that they feel like they have wasted their work lives in boring work and would rather drop out than take another dead end job. Also, government welfare programs and disability options encourage people to stay out of the workforce. A former employee of ours who says he would like to work part time for us now is paranoid about losing his disability status, so he languishes on his couch as his viable work options vanish.

The U.S. labor market is very hard to make sense out of. I think that if the Federal Reserve decides to raise interest rates in September because the economists think we are near full employment, they will be making a mistake. The labor market is a lot looser and inefficient than that 5.3% unemployment number represents at first glance.

Question: Do unions still work for the working person?

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8 thoughts on “A Real Piece of Work

  1. AvatarJack

    This could get ugly.
    Union cost my wife her job.
    Niece got so sick of the Wisconsin teachers union she packed her bags got a teaching job in Montana. Says people are much friendlier out there.

  2. Avatarallen

    Wrong question.

    The right question is “do unions still work for the unionized working person?”. Unions have never had any interest in the working person unless they were a member or could be unionized.

    Matter of fact, in no few situations it’s not at all clear that the union had the best interests of the membership at heart.

    As for teachers, that’s a whole other situation.

    They’re government employees so civil service rules make things complicated. On top of that the union has to demonstrate it’s worth to the membership so everything is made more complex. Perhaps worst of all they work for an institution that places no value on their central skill. Teachers don’t get paid more as they get more knowledgeable and capable. They get paid more for simply being around.

    A ten year teacher who a reasonable person wouldn’t trust with a canary makes exactly as much as a ten year teacher who’s a hotshot. Until that changes, until teaching skill has some measurable, professional value the public education system will continue to stagnate.

  3. AvatarChristopher Ferrier, CA

    My wife received 5 job offers in one day after attending a school district job fair. She accepted a position teaching 4th Grade with a 10 minute commute.

    She substitute taught 100+ days in this particular district last year. Most of the 100 she served in a long-term role teaching a class of low socioeconomic 5th Graders with you-might-not-believe-it-if-I-wrote-it student behavior issues. She never gave up. In fact, she became somewhat of a celebrity on campus with students and administrators alike. She’s good, real good.

    My wife is considered a new teacher. She’s got 4 years of experience.

    I think that her demonstration of skill as a substitute teacher, with the district’s toughest customers, earned her a solid reputation and was the reason 5 schools wanted her on board full-time this year.

    School starts next week. I’ll be glad for the 2nd paycheck, but sad that I’ll have to re-up my contribution to the household chores.

  4. Avatarsteve

    I think unions had there day. Looking at what’s going on in Chicago. Looks like a shakedown to me. Who’s getting 7% raises in this economy? I’m sure there few and far between. I have a job shop in Skokie IL. In district 219 high school. 208 teachers make over 100k. highest paid gym teacher in the state 160k a year. administrators making 384k a year. Not bad for what 170 days a year of work. Then you wonder why guys like me just give up. I tired of getting bent over for property taxes. 3200sq ft building taxes 2200.00 a month. 74% of tax bill go’s to the school districts. With the way manufacturing is in this country, I see why guys are just calling it quits. It doesn’t matter to the schools or towns. Your just a pocket to reach into. And the teacher unions are a prime example of this. Just remember we need to save the kids. And all that takes is all your money. If the unions don’t get their way they strike. If i’m Rahm and CPS strikes. I bust the union and hire new teachers. Then you can straighten out the pension problems.Those Pensions will never ever get paid for. That’s my 2 cents.

    1. AvatarJack

      $2200.00 per month, WHAT?????
      You never really own your property you just rent it from the school district.

  5. AvatarBig Al

    The only good thing about a union is that it forces management to not be draconian in how they treat their employees. Back when unions were just getting started the bosses could do anything and usually did. Other than that, a union is only in place to feather the union boss’s pocket.

  6. AvatarTodd

    Is it just me, or does it look like all the people in the picture would rather be doing ANYTHING other than getting caught in this picture? There is only one person even half smiling, and that’s the union president. So much for enjoying their jobs.

    My wife is a teacher, and teaching is what energizes her. She would not join a union because she believes that good teachers should be retained and given raises, and lousy teachers should be given the boot. Teachers unions have become a place of refuge for mediocre, stagnant, and those who have lost their love of teaching. There are excellent teachers in the unions too, I just believe those teachers don’t need the “protection” of a union.

    I see the idea of a union as an organization that would be there to counteract and advocate to have wrongs righted, and to protect/prevent a group of labors from unsafe/unreasonable demands, and/or exploitation of its members from an unethical/predatory employer.

    Here’s where it gets wonky. In today’s overly litigious and increasingly entitled society, the ideas of unsafe, unhealthy, unreasonable , unethical, etc, have gotten mixed up with “I deserve better”, “I’m entitled”, “It’s not fair”. Today’s workforce, regardless of the field of work, should be conducting themselves with integrity, honesty, and a real desire to perform to the best of their ability, and be recognized for the value they add as an asset to the company. to the

    I certainly see the continued value of ensuring workers safety and well being, especially for coal miners, steel workers, and others in dangerous, often undesirable industries. However, I feel things have gotten sideways in the professional world as it relates to unions. The majority of unionized workers I know have each expressed disappointment in their unions. Whether in the amount of dues, the ridiculous restrictions on performing their jobs, seeing unqualified, undeserving co workers get promoted into positions they are not equipped for, and clearly unsuited for. Some have even had negative experiences when they have tried to have the union represent for them in difficult circumstances. In each situation I know of, the union failed to advocate for them, even undermining, ending in undesirable results. I could go on.


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