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What Happens to Unions After Friedrichs?

The decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association is a foregone conclusion ("Does Labor Deserve Its Own Downfall?" The Nation, Feb. 4).  If I'm right, the ruling against agency fees will effectively emasculate teachers' unions across the country.  The real question then is whether teachers' unions have a viable future.

When most people read about rigid tenure and seniority laws, and generous pensions and benefits, they become angry.  I understand why they feel that way.  No such situation exists in the private sector where most Americans work.  That's why teachers' unions are often blamed for the situation they find themselves in.  It's futile to try to convince them that there is a legitimate reason for such things, or to suggest that they too can become teachers if teaching is such a plum.  I stress the latter because the most vehement critics I know are free-market enthusiasts. Therefore, I urge them to quit their present jobs and make teaching a career.  Of course, they won't.

The argument often made is that those on the fence remain the best hope for teachers' unions.  It is best summed up in "Power to the people- to the workers and their communities."  Since most people were educated in public schools in this country, the opinion they have of the education they received and of their teachers can't be all bad. If teachers' unions can enlist their support, then perhaps the future is not entirely bleak.

But this will take strong and enlightened leadership. If Albert Shanker, former president of the American Federation of Teachers, were alive, he would be my No. 1 choice.  I see no one able to take his place. That's why I think public schools of the future in this country will resemble collective enterprises. They will be operated by teachers, administrators and community members. Unions will act strictly as advisory bodies. Whether this model will result in a quality education for all students is another question.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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