'Just Cause' Gone Wild: A Growing Movement Questioning Tenure and Public Union Representation

There has been much attention to teachers' tenure and their rights to be unionized. This week, a dramatic event came to a critical head in Wisconsin resulting in a blatant refusal of the Democratic party representatives to attend a hearing. It was an obvious and concerted effort to boycott the hearing with the financial crisis and the rights of public employee unionization being the issue at hand. It has been confirmed that the members of the Wisconsin State Senate are in hiding.

Hiding? At particular issue is the inability to pay, money for benefits, and the future of bargaining for public employees. Is there good reason to go missing?

What? Not represent the constituents, and risk arrest by the police who are out looking for them? Right or wrong, the union workers need their support and level heads as opposed to hiding from the issue. Handling dissension, differences of opinion, and representing constituents is a big part of the job of state representatives.

Now, we need to separate those two issues and stunningly a third issue this week; they are not necessarily exclusive. Sure, unions attempt to represent their constituents to get the most power for the members. That is their job. But it appears that the representation of teachers has gone to a galaxy far, far away. There is a need for cooperation and concessions for all sectors. Let's look at the other side of the "just cause" coin, is there "just cause" or good reason, to violate labor law?

Today, they went to that galaxy. The union, Wisconsin Education Association claims they didn't call upon members to strike but called upon all of its members to picket the hearing. They claim it was a political action. Okay, let's call it a political action that encouraged the more than 40 percent of members who participated in a "sick out" resulting in canceling of classes. They called in sick and at least two school districts have closed. In my book, there is no difference. It is a concerted work stoppage. This hearing was clearly scheduled during the school day. Is this an unfair labor practice? Quite likely so.

We have all paid for the economic conditions of our country. Every family has been hit with this type of income reduction in their lives and look to resolutions. We must rely on our elected officials. Right or wrong, in an attempt to rein in the cost crisis in Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker is proposing to contain costs and avoid layoffs.

"Governor Scott Walker claims a point of crisis. Attempting to avoid layoffs In addition to eliminating collective bargaining rights, the legislation would also make public workers pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care coverage -- increases that Walker calls "modest" compared to those in the private sector".

We all know the state of our economy and it "ain't" good but none of us are exempt from a dose of our medicine for economic recovery. Most of us or our families have suffered through layoffs, and reductions in employer benefit contributions. The public eye has turned to teacher's tenure, their rights to be represented, benefits, and public unions in general. Perhaps it's their turn. Many teachers are actually supporting the effort for concessions.

More to the point is the issue of any sector of our society being guaranteed a job for life and insulation from the effects of a tough economy... and is that really the intent of tenure or has it gone wild with solid guarantees for employment? We see that guarantee of a job forever in education and it begs us to wonder why tenure exists and if it makes sense for the future. Do we understand tenure and is it necessary? It's good work if you can get it but we can't forget that this affects our most important family members, our children.

Tenure is an enhanced "just cause" standard, meaning that employees will only be fired or disciplined with good cause or good reason. Just cause is a great concept that most "at will" employers even practice. But tenure, is a just cause standard on steroids of sorts. It applies to teachers in K-12 institutions as well as at colleges and universities. In various educational settings it guarantees many bites at the apple including peer review hearings and countless levels of investigation. Many districts pay teachers for long periods of time and invest significant public funds to defend cases.

The last time a union issue of this magnitude occurred was in 1981 when the public employees represented by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) went on strike. The air traffic controllers were ordered to return to work and fired due to their refusal to return to work. The law is clear here. The teachers are public employees. Tenure did nothing for the terminated employees.

One thing is clear, this problem needs to be thoughtfully expedited and focused on the interest of the quality of education of students. This example of the "sick out" resulting in at least 40 percent of teachers shutting down the classrooms by calling in sick when they are not, is in direct contradiction to the standards of teacher excellence and honesty that they claim to strive for.
Defending themselves and creating solutions to the problems needs to be legally and appropriately done. Students are depending on it.