Letter from San Diego teacher to teachers’ union

Geoffrey Lawrence

Sarah Mathy, a young teacher in the San Diego Unified School District recently sent a letter her union president, criticizing the union for throwing highly-effective, but junior teachers under the bus in order to protect less-effective, but more senior teachers. Here’s an interesting excerpt from her letter:

Dear Mr. Freeman – In March I was asking you to negotiate with (the district) so that many (all?) of the layoffs could be avoided. I called for things such as extra furlough days and opening the health benefits package negotiation. I wanted our union to get creative about the endless possibilities for solving this problem so that jobs are saved and kids are served.

But so far, all I have received are layoff notices #1 and #2 from (the district), and emails from (the union) calling me to more action and more rallies.

This is not what I want.

And the unspoken but clear message being sent to me from (the union) is that you are a union that wants to prioritize the interests of the senior, not junior, members. That when (the union) is not “winning” the battles with (the district), it will put the junior members out in the name of protecting the senior.

All along, it has seemed like a very logical fix to me to negotiate with (the district) so that the weight of this budget crisis is distributed on the shoulders of all teachers, not just on a few hundred. That is solidarity. That is “together we are stronger.” I feel instead like (the union’s) hostage and not (the district’s), as you mentioned in a recent email blast.

So the questions become: “WHO is (the union) working for?” and “WHAT is (the union) working for?” Unfortunately for my situation, the WHO seems to be the senior members, and the WHAT is status quo for salary and benefits for those who will remain.

That will not work in this current fiscal crisis. You need to negotiate with (the district) and launch a campaign to convince union members that this is the best option.

I don’t think you will have as much opposition to a contract renegotiation as you may think. Many of my colleagues unaffected by layoff notices believe in some form of contract modifications so we all can have our jobs.

We work in a dynamic profession with multi-faceted students, and I want my union to mirror that. With some salary or benefit alteration, we can all keep the jobs we love to do, live comfortably and take care of our families, and make sure students get the most of everything. This has to be an AND situation, not an EITHER/OR.

So I trust that with the same confidence and care with which you engaged my concerns in March, that you move (the union) into a new chapter where we can feel more like brothers and sisters, instead of the haves and have-nots.

Sarah Mathy
Teacher for 6 years at Central Elementary

Mathy’s comments are directed at the San Diego teachers’ union, but the same observations could be made of virtually any union in the public or private sectors. The primary objective of a union is to pursue above-market wages and this typically means a crowding out of junior employees or new entrants to an industry as more wages are absorbed by senior workers. Murray Rothbard frequently pointed to the role of unions in exacerbating unemployment problems. Mathy is simply giving an insider’s voice to the objection that Rothbard and other notable economists have recognized for decades.

Fortunately for Nevadans, recent legislation passed by the state legislature (AB229) requires Nevada school districts to at least consider criteria additional to seniority when making layoff decisions. According to the bill’s language, school boards, when considering workforce reductions, “must not base the decision to lay off a teacher or an administrator solely on the seniority of the teacher or administrator and may consider certain other factors.” [Emphasis added.]

Certainly, the language highlighted here is not very strong, but it at least begins to move in the right direction by giving an extremely minimal assurance that Nevada’s children will have access to effective teachers and not just those who have gone through the motions for a longer period of time.

Hat tip: Education Action Group Foundation.

Geoffrey Lawrence

Geoffrey Lawrence

Director of Research

Geoffrey Lawrence is director of research at Nevada Policy.

Lawrence has broad experience as a financial executive in the public and private sectors and as a think tank analyst. Lawrence has been Chief Financial Officer of several growth-stage and publicly traded manufacturing companies and managed all financial reporting, internal control, and external compliance efforts with regulatory agencies including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.  Lawrence has also served as the senior appointee to the Nevada State Controller’s Office, where he oversaw the state’s external financial reporting, covering nearly $10 billion in annual transactions. During each year of Lawrence’s tenure, the state received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting Award from the Government Finance Officers’ Association.

From 2008 to 2014, Lawrence was director of research and legislative affairs at Nevada Policy and helped the institute develop its platform of ideas to advance and defend a free society.  Lawrence has also written for the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, with particular expertise in state budgets and labor economics.  He was delighted at the opportunity to return to Nevada Policy in 2022 while concurrently serving as research director at the Reason Foundation.

Lawrence holds an M.A. in international economics from American University in Washington, D.C., an M.S. and a B.S. in accounting from Western Governors University, and a B.A. in international relations from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.  He lives in Las Vegas with his beautiful wife, Jenna, and their two kids, Carson Hayek and Sage Aynne.