This week, Wisconsin once again found itself in the middle of a union labor dispute. This time it was about referees, not teachers, and the people getting screwed were our favorite millionaires, not our children.
After the “Inaccurate Reception” ruined my Monday night, it managed to bring the country together on labor issues. Because we might not be able to decide if teachers are “union thugs,” we sure as hell can tell the difference between catching a ball and catching a guy holding a ball. So, after weeks of ineptitude, the consensus was clear: The referees’ union was right, and the referees deserved whatever they wanted just so long as we got our football back.
I know these are different labor situations. One is about a multi-billion dollar company watching its hardball negotiating tactic backfire with a wave of bad national press when referees from the Lingerie Football League couldn’t handle professional athletes. The other relates to a government facing a deficit trying to find a way to get employee wages and benefits under control. Still, when both President Barack Obama and Gov. Scott Walker come out on the same side of a labor issue, it’s at least got to pique your curiosity.
A lot of the issues in both cases are similar, and it’s interesting that on one hand we have the human Hercules NFL referee Ed Hochuli being petitioned by just about everyone to receive the benefits his union sought, while on the other hand teachers face a very vocal group that thinks the teachers not only don’t have the right to collectively bargain, but they are also essentially more interested in living off the government than educating their students. Look at the biggest issues in both cases: The NFL wanted to change the pension package the referees received into a 401(k), create a new system under which they could pay for performance and change the overall pay structure; the state wanted to change how much teachers were paying into their pension and health care benefits, have the flexibility to start paying for performance and control the overall pay structure.
In one case, the employers got everything they wanted, in the other the workers essentially got everything they wanted. Why?
I don’t think they are equal situations, but it’s interesting to me that we as consumers of football never questioned the referees’ right to fight for what they thought was adequate compensation; in fact, we were the driving force behind them getting it. But as consumers of education, we absolutely questioned the teachers right to unionize and bargain. In Wisconsin, we took it away from them altogether until the recent Dane County court ruling and were able to save money as a state. Certainly a valuable goal, but also very similar to the goals of the NFL ownership. The NFL ownership has been blasted for allowing the replacement referees to operate, which only happened because at the end of the day the NFL wanted to save money.
We recognize in this country we need to be able to educate better, just as clearly as we saw the quality of officiating under the replacements was unacceptable. We demanded the NFL pay these referees to give us the quality we wanted. Yet for education we cut the budget by $900 million. A recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said “Teacher quality is the most important school-based determinant of student success.… Recruiting, developing, and retaining high-quality teachers is … critical to improving student achievement. But these tasks are more difficult when school districts are cutting their budgets.” We chose the priority of saving money over the priority of improving the system.
I think the NFL learned the hard way you get what you pay for with the replacement referees. I wonder if there will be an “Inaccurate Reception” moment in education before we realize the same lesson.
John Waters ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in journalism.