Paul Horton continues to provide a historical context for issues of our time. In this post, he shows how the birth and growth of the black middle class was integrally related to the union movement and public sector employment.
“The biggest lifeline that middle class blacks could grasp was public sector employment. The last thirty years have seen an increase in the employment of blacks in city, county, and state government. Teachers, firemen, police, water and sanitation workers make up the backbone of the black middle class today. It is not surprising, given the history cited above that blacks are very active in seeking the job protections offered by union membership.
“In fact, in a report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics last year (“Union Members Summary”), “black workers were more likely to be union members than white, Asian, or Hispanic workers.” The average weekly earnings for union members was $950 and $750 for non union members.
“Not surprisingly, the two states with the largest union membership are the first two states targeted by Campbell Brown’s group anti-tenure group: California (2.4 million) and New York (2 million).
“The pattern that I am trying to describe is that the attack on teacher tenure is, in part, an attack on the black middle class. In Chicago, for example, several rounds of school reform between 2000 and 2010 decimated black teachers employed by CPS (Chicago Public Schools: 40% 2000, 30% 2010). When I attended an activist parents meeting and gave a talk, the parent on the panel to my left expressed outrage that another public school was being closed and that “the community was losing more black teachers.” (Huffington Post, “CPS Racial Discrimination Lawsuit: Three Teachers, Union Sue District Over Losing Their Jobs”) In a recent Ebony expose’, Rod McCullom reported that 43% of those laid off in the wake of the 2013 school closings were black. (Ebony, September 2013) According to CTU (Chicago Teacher Union) President Karen Lewis, “Entire faculties are fired and must reapply for positions in turnarounds. These situations have been extremely challenging on Black middle-age faculty members who often have advanced degrees or seniority.”
And he adds:
“While there is much evidence to support the targeting of black teachers by anti-tenure lawsuits supported by Ms. Brown, Ms. Gibbs, and now, superstar lawyers David Boies and Laurence Tribe, the impact of the loss of tenure will demoralize teacher’s unions and allow school administrators to hire and fire at will. The immediate objective for education reformers is that a victory in the tenure fight will allow big city school districts to rif out senior teachers who are expensive and replace them with young, less costly teachers recruited from such organizations as Teach for America. TFA teachers are typically just graduated college students who undergo a five-week intensive training course that does not adequately prepare them for the classroom, especially the inner city classroom. Although increasing numbers of TFA teachers are staying on for a third year, they rarely stay in the classroom longer.
“The irony of Ms. Campbell’s anti-tenure campaign is that by making the teacher workplace a less secure place to be, fewer of our brightest young people will want to work in schools where administrators “are forced by their district level bosses “to take the kid gloves off.” An absence of tenure will drive salaries even lower, making the teaching profession even less attractive to most bright young people who might want to buy a house or start a family. Teachers who live in cities where salaries are comparably high often cannot afford to live in neighborhoods that are considered “safe.” Yet another irony is that those states that are the most heavily unionized are, almost without exception, those that have the highest standardized test scores.
“One can certainly understand why Campbell Brown, who is married to a Republican bundler, would support an end to tenure for teachers, but it is more difficult to understand the motivations of Gibbs, Boies, and Tribe who claim to be Democrats.
“The weakening of teacher tenure will create legal precedents for the elimination of due process for all remaining public sector jobs. This would allow cities to hire and fire all of its employees at will and easily jettison expensive pension and health care packages, ala’ the Chicago School of Economics privatization schemes applied to Chile and Argentina by the “Chicago Boys.”