Union costs hamstring schools
January 20, 2005 (letter to Lansing State Journal)

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There is something wrong with the system when it makes sense to pay teachers not to teach.

To help balance the budget for the next school year, the Lansing School District plans to pay its most experienced teachers $50,000 to retire. Teachers who have taught as little as 15 years will be eligible, as well as those who have taught 35 years and had planned to retire anyway.

What a nice windfall.

The savings comes from replacing veteran teachers, who are paid about $65,000, with rookies, who get about $33,800. My question is: If rookies can do the job and experienced teachers are disposable, why did it ever make sense to pay more for experience?

My guess is that it is the result of collective bargaining.

I am a liberal. I am pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. I am in favor of a government-run national health system financed out of the general fund.

But I think opposing unions is the proper liberal position because their effect on society is negative.

While it is true that many employees benefit from collective bargaining, workers, in general, are better off with a free labor market. As a direct result of union workers being paid above the market rate, other workers are either unemployed or paid less than they would be otherwise.

This is because companies with unions have to raise prices to pay for the higher union wages, and when product prices go up, demand goes down and production has to be curtailed, resulting in layoffs. The customers who do pay the higher price have less money for other purchases, so demand for the products of other businesses goes down also, forcing them to either reduce their prices - which might require paying their employees less - or to cut production, resulting in more layoffs.

In a free labor market, anyone who wants to work can do so. He simply underbids the competition. With everyone working, more goods and services are produced and there is more for everyone. The average wage may seem higher with collective bargaining, but that is because the unemployed are not included in the calculation.

Also, the higher union wages are offset by higher prices - a higher cost of living.

Lansing Board of Education member Dan Voss says benefits and other personnel-related costs comprise 85 percent of the district's $178 million budget. I wonder how much could be saved if all teachers were compensated at the market rate.