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September 03, 2020

FDR Was Against Public Employee Unions Having the Rights to Strike or Bargain Collectively

Public School Teachers’ Unions Are a Good Example of Why

FDRFranklin Delano Roosevelt was a great supporter of organized labor. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (aka the Wagner Act) was passed on his watch and is still the basic federal law governing the relationship of private sector employees and labor unions. FDR also supported the right of public sector workers to organize. However, he was emphatically against allowing government workers either to have collective bargaining agreements or to strike.

He wrote:

“All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress.…

 “…Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable…”

FDR did not cite the danger of public employee unions so powerful that they are decisive in elections through both their advocacy and their contributions; that hadn’t happened yet. Public employee unions get two bites of the negotiation apple: once through the election and a second time at the bargaining where the bosses of the people they are negotiating with are the politicians the unions helped elect.

FDR was writing about federal employees, but the same logic applies to state and municipal and school district employees. As you may remember, federal employees did strike despite laws against this. In my youth there were postal strikes and then there was the famous air traffic controller strike. In one of the most overlooked achievements of his presidency, Ronald Regan fired the illegally striking controllers. There hasn’t been a federal strike since.

It is time for a showdown with teachers’ unions. Their protection of the incompetent and their jihad against charter schools is are root causes of an increasingly impenetrable wall between haves and have nots and growing inequality. My immigrant grandparents got a boost into American prosperity from great public schools in New York City and Philadelphia. That essential bridge out of poverty has been dismantled.

Most teachers I know are dedicated; my daughter and son-in-law teach in an underfunded public charter school. But the actions of the teachers’ unions during the pandemic are despicable. They expect their members to be supplied with food, medical care, policing, fire protection, plumbing etc. etc. by the parents of the children they won’t teach. They say “we didn’t sign up to risk out lives for your children.” In NYC Mayor de Blasio just gave into a union demand to postpone school reopening because the unions threatened an illegal (NY State law)  strike.

de Blasio missed the great opportunity a teacher strike presented to help struggling parents!

In recent years teacher strikes have almost always succeeded in getting teachers’ unions most of what they demanded. Frantic parents who couldn’t go to work pressured local school boards and state governments to give in. But that was then and this is now. The public schools are not planning to open open full time in most of the US; they are offering no in person teaching in some of the country. Parents already can’t go to work.

If teachers who aren’t working anyway go on strike, no one is going to miss them.

If teachers go on strike, they don’t get paid with public funds (presumably they have accumulated strike funds good for a while). If teachers go on strike, they are not entitled to unemployment insurance. The money that would have gone to teachers who are not working is then freed up to help parents desperate for both daycare to let them get back to work and an education for their children.

Teachers who want to work –I think there’ll be many despite peer pressure – should, of course, be welcomed with open arms. Those with medical conditions which prevent them working are entitled to the same consideration as those in other essential industries who can’t work. All should be given an opportunity to come back to work once they see that the parent-public is no longer over a barrel.

If politicians learn that the teachers’ unions are not all-powerful, they may stop caving on other important issues like discipline, merit pay, school choice, and charter schools. If that happens and quality public education can once more be a bridge out of poverty, 2020 can still be a year in which equality in America took a big step forward – one FDR would approve of.


See also:

Defund Teachers During the Pandemic

Should K-12 Schools Reopen?

Defunding Teachers for Better Education and More Equal Educational Opportunity

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