Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Teachers: Erase strike from union’s lesson plan

Post by Brian O'Neill on Sep. 18, 2011 at 4:37 pm with 17 Comments »
September 18, 2011 8:16 pm

Before I add to the vitriol surrounding the striking Tacoma school teachers I should provide this disclaimer: I don’t have kids in Tacoma schools, don’t have any experience in teacher negotiations and have only a basic grasp on the issues.

Now to the point- Tacoma teachers should put down the signs, step away from the picket lines and get back to the vital job of teaching children.

As I mentioned, I don’t have a dog (or in this case, a kid) in the fight. What I do have is the experience of being a public employee charged to perform a vital role within the protective network of a union. Despite a degree of removal, my perspective as a law enforcement officer does give me a minimum level of commonality with public school educators, whose union is currently conducting a very aggressive, ill-timed and controversial job action.

Like teachers, my years in police work have all been spent under the umbrella of a union-negotiated contract. Not surprisingly, the last three years at the bargaining table have been, in a word, lousy. Our union gave back 2% of our pay one year and froze it the next. We received fewer health benefits just as medical costs increased. Finally, we watched staffing, job opportunities and promotions erode. Like many other public and private sector workers in this brave new economy, we are now being asked to do more while being given less.

Compare that with individual Tacoma teachers quoted as saying they would simply like to keep the previous contract’s salary. While I don’t blame them for wishing, in this economy that wish and four bucks will get you a gallon of gas.

The other sticking points are the related issues of performance evaluations and the managerial right to transfer employees. These ideas seem to be new or abhorrent (or both) to this union which apparently lacks a basic level of trust in management.

Performance evaluations and specific managerial rights, however, are standard in many  public and private sector professions. Any police department that covets the status of an accredited agency must demonstrate that employees receive routine performance evaluations. Setting goals for employees and measuring their success (and, yes, failures) is a process meant to be beneficial to the employee, the employer and the public for whom we all toil. Poor performers will, and should, be moved to areas of lesser responsibility if their duties require a performance level they fail to reach.

These appear to be the unresolved issues awaiting negotiation, and negotiations are not meant to be pretty. These “discussions” are combative by nature as both sides hammer out the whys, wherefores and how-much-es for each matter of contention. At its best this two-sided volley ends in a tie, and at worst t(in the case of police agencies) mediators arrive to determine the outcome.

Did any of that include a strike? Nope. You may point out that, in most cases, public safety officers are precluded from striking. Point taken. But we shouldn’t be the only ones.

The threat of a strike gives teachers a negotiating trump card as powerful as any in the working world. The reaction to the mere suggestion of one is swift and chaotic- parents scramble for child care, scrap pre-planned vacations and re-work painstakingly prepared schedules. For some, single parents especially, this can be both costly and stressful.

Most important to the argument against teacher strikes is the example set by the people we entrust to educate our children. What civic lesson are they conveying when they state that they are striking because negotiations don’t work? What level of responsibility are they promoting when they fail to meet the obligations of a contract that holds their signature? What respect for authority are they demonstrating when they ignore a judge’s ruling to get off the strike line and go perform the job for which they were paid?

Just imagine if students were absorbing these erroneous lessons. What if a student who decides to ignore a classroom rule he doesn’t like. He gets detention, but then he blows it off and heads home. Faced with discipline by the principal, he walks out of the office. The principal decides not to invoke further punishment if the student will just go back to class.

Is that reality? Apparently it is if you’re a Tacoma teacher.

My take
Leave a comment Comments → 17
  1. Very well said,

  2. Well, as the old saying goes, “When you point your finger at someone, you have three fingers pointing back at you.”

    Years ago I used to meet several friends for coffee at a restaurant on Puyallup Avenue. It was kind of a dive, but the service was good and if you just wanted to sit and visit with friends over a cup of mud no one cared if you did just that all night if you wanted to.

    At the time, it wasn’t uncommon to see 25-30 uniformed police officers in the back dining area, yucking it up and drinking coffee by the gallon. If a call came in over the radio, one of them would get up and leave, so there’s no question they were doing this on duty.

    I also recall how when gangs started becoming a problem along the water front, it was decided to increase the number of officers on bicycle patrol. The idea was they’d be able to more quickly respond to any problem along the two mile stretch between the old town dock and Les Davis pier if there were more of them patroling the area. On any given day, you’d find all of them jungled up by the area where girls played volleyball in bikinis, leaning on their bicycles and yucking it up. They couldn’t possibly have responded to a problem at the other end of the park in less than 15 minutes, if at all.

    When I was a kid, Tacoma was a pretty nice town. It was rare to venture out and not see at least one cop patrolling the neighborhood. It was also possible to receive something close to a real education in public schools.

    So, yeah, the upholstered parasites, with buttocks six ax handles across, striking to do less work is certainly disgusting. By the same token, however, I don’t think Tacoma cops are the ones to point out how lazy they are, without drawing attention to the kind of hypocrisy most taxpayers are finding decidedly unpalatable.

    I got a concealed carry license for the same reason many parents are schooling their children at home: the jobs I as a taxpayer am paying civil un-servants to do isn’t getting done. If we have to defend our own property and school our own children, why should we keep paying you?

    How about showing a little pride and return value for value received? And, yeah, do it with a smile like you appreciate us paying you a good living so you don’t have to greet shoppers at Walmart for minimum wage and no benefits whatsoever.

  3. CeeCeeDD says:

    I have tremendous respect for law enforcement and fire fighters, and believe you deserve fair compensation and good contracts. However, don’t you have binding arbitration for your contract negotiations? Teachers do not.

    In the current situation, we’re really not asking for a raise, although we would like a reasonable method for implementing the legislature’s budget reduction. Pay is really not the issue.

    Teachers are currently quite embattled. We are disrespected, blamed because of students’ test scores, and dictated to about the curriculum we use. We are experiencing a vigorous attack on our union and on seniority rights. Those seniority rights were originally given to teachers because other systems were extremely subjective, controversial, and unfair. Teachers prefer seniority because good teaching may look different to different people. There’s more than one way to do a great job.

    Striking was not our preference; it was very much forced on us by the district. Our employer has dragged their feet, hired an outside negotiator, and been less than forthright with us. As I mentioned, we do not have binding arbitration like you have. Our hands were tied.

    Thanks for listening, and please consider what I am saying about the differences between our situations.

  4. Brian O'Neill says:

    de9mm- The topic is the teachers’ strike–not cop bashing. Why don’t you holster your spleen until myself or someone else writes something remotely relevant to your rant. And when you do you’ll find you get more credibility when you don’t use gross hyperbole.

  5. Brian O'Neill says:

    Ceeceedd- You make excellent points, and I thank you for your comments. There are definitely differences in our situations, and I was unaware that your arbitrations were not binding as are ours. I would point out that the blame your union receives for student performance is no different than the blame cops receive for crime stats. And while there are many ways to do a job right, in police work or teaching, there are a few standout ways to do it wrong. There must be a way to put a fair performance evaluation together.

    Either way, I hope you’re back in the classroom soon.

  6. BO,

    You’re too funny! Welcome to the welfare entitlement standard come back, “You’re just picking on me because I’m a ________ (fill in the blank).”

    I’m not cop bashing. I’m lazy civil servant feeding at the public trough bashing.

    The most amazing thing about lazy civil servants is they seem to think they’re invisible and no one can see just how lazy they really are. Welcome to the real world where if you act like a jerk, people will treat you like a jerk, and where if you want respect you have to earn it.

    And, while you’re thowing your little tizzy fit, you might want to go back to your original post where you may note that it was you who brought up the topic of police unions in the context of teachers’ unions. Interestingly, you go right back to it in the following post where you desparately latch onto the rationalization that a lazy civil servant shouldn’t judge their pathetic performance on attaining the results the job is intended to produce.

    For many years the private sector has had a system that works 100% of the time. If an employee doesn’t produce the desired results, the employee doesn’t get to keep their job. What works at McDonald’s or IBM will work just as well with police and teachers.

  7. LibertyBell says:

    A job is a privledge, not a right, as anyone knows.

  8. Brian google lemon dance sometime.

  9. BlaineCGarver says:

    Fire the strikers….

  10. gmborting says:

    Negotiations are just that, negotiations. Just so happens that the teachers have a union contract that gives them some protection from an arbitrary employer. I think more people ought to support the teachers and any other union member. Due to politicians fostering a climate to encourage jobs going overseas and union bashing/busting we all see wages stagnate and benifits erode. Who makes out like a fat rat here? Certainly not we the middle class. If you are happy with your mediocre wages and dwindling benefits keep on giving union members a hard time for just trying to hold on to what they have fought long and hard for. If you aren’t, organize and do what is necessary to hold the line for all of us.
    A retorical question for you. Do you really think management of any profession is there to see you get better wages and benefits (which means they get less) for doing a good job for them?

  11. Brian O'Neill says:


    I’m not sure if you’re agreeing, disagreeing, or simply making a corollary point to my column, but I do thank you for your comments. I am pleased with the work my union reps have done for me and my fellow cops throughout my career, and I recognize that my benefits are a result of that work. However, the point of the column was not union membership but the strike by the teachers’ union. I remain convinced that this type of job action, by public employees serving a vital and irreplaceable function should be illegal.

  12. Pacman33 says:

    A rHetorical for gmborting.

    Wouldn’t managing employees with the objective of long term success of the company be the most realistic and rational approach to better employee compensation and benefits?

  13. RE: “I remain convinced that this type of job action, by public employees serving a vital and irreplaceable function should be illegal.”

    At least we can agree on something. It is, in fact, illegal. See:

    “Nothing contained in this chapter shall permit or grant any public employee the right to strike or refuse to perform his official duties.”

  14. LibertyBell says:

    But of course de9mm,

    That always depends on the meaning of Official, Duties, and Party.

  15. Brian, before you brag too much about the Tacoma Police Department’s impeccable record, please go back and read the history of Chief Jim Kerr, George Cvitanich and “Good Old Boy: Jankovich. There’s a still a lot of us alive in Tacoma who remember the Rosellini Crime Commission hearings, the indictments of police officers and their cronies and the scandal of pay-offs that went on in the late 50’s and 60’s.
    To infer that everyone has always been pure as the driven snow is an insult to many of us wiht long memories who fought so hard to change the form of government to preclude more “under the counter” law enforcement.


  16. Brian O'Neill says:

    Olemag- I believe your are off on a tangent. In no way did I cite the “impeccable record” of TPD within a column aimed at exposing the hypocrisy of teachers striking. I am well aware of the corruption scandal during the Jankovich years. Heck, I could add to the accumulated skeletons in the closet with my personal experiences working with and for Dave Brame.

    I believe you read an inferred opinion into my column that truly does not exist. Thus, I won’t apologize for an insult that was not made. Either way, I do appreciate your comments.

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