Thursday, January 31, 2013

Service economy

A "Charter School Teacher" comments under a Lens story about United Teachers of New Orleans's efforts to organize a scattered workforce.  I don't know enough about the particulars of UTNO's strategy to address the criticism at the end of this but the observation I've bolded here struck me as particularly astute.
As a (non-union) charter school teacher, I saw the headline and was pleased to see UTNO reaching out to teachers at schools like my own. While unions might have been heavy-handed in the past, collective bargaining is an absolute necessity in the long run to give teachers a voice in how schools are run. Charter teachers are largely ineligible for tenure, work under at will contracts and can be disciplined or fired for any reason at any time- and there’s no district to appeal to. Teacher salaries in this city have plummeted while hours worked have drastically increased. More importantly, most charters have no publicly available salary scale or ladder- when a stellar teacher wants a raise, they move schools, or become an administrator, neither of which have particularly positive outcomes for students. Teaching is becoming a service industry in this city for young people to burn out on before moving on to another career.

 Having said all that, I was hoping to see news of a UTNO organizing drive, first steps toward planning collective bargaining agreements with the bigger charter operators, or a discussion of the workplace challenges faced by teachers and the benefits that a union could bring. Instead, they won’t disclose their dues and offer professional development when most charters already offer vast amounts of training. UTNO needs to wake up and listen to their real clients, because students aren’t the ones paying union dues.
This is, perhaps, an echo of the jungle ethic of the city's dominant tourism industry spreading itself across other disciplines.  No job security, no benefits.  Employees are intimidated, under-compensated, and the great majority are used up and discarded.  Sound like any number of bars or restaurants or hotels you might have worked in?

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