What’s it worth to you?


After the Big Branch Mine disaster earlier this month,  I was reflecting on something I remember a college professor telling me about unions in coal mining. Her take was that European Miners Unions for a variety of reasons, were able to concentrate their efforts on improving working conditions, and the overall safety in the mines, while U.S. unions concentrated on improvements in pay. The results were more injuries and fatalities in U.S. mines. Her thesis was that miners essentially paid with some of their lives for a salary that allows a family to live on one income with nothing more than a high school education in one of the most depressed job markets in the country.

While I work in a relatively benign profession in terms of workplace safety as measured by fatalities, working conditions are much more than just safety. All of the recent cuts in education funding aren’t just about jobs, and salary, but will also affect working conditions. These cuts are being paid for not just by firing teachers, but by raising the number of students in the classes of teachers left behind, and elimination of services that support students, and teachers. That’s what’s in the balance when locals make salary concessions.

Most locals seek to maximize pay for their members, which is always seen as good. I wonder how the merit pay proposals in Washington D.C. and my district fit into this? Is is a win-win, or is something being compromised for students, and workers that may not be obvious when looked at from a purely economic point-of-view.

4 Comments to

“What’s it worth to you?”

  1. April 18th, 2010 at 11:14 am      Reply Mr. K Says:

    This is my first union job in a fairly diverse career. Part of my usual interview process was to negotiate salary, which is no longer an option.

    However, I keep that as part of my interview – the responses I get to how a principle might create an work environment that attracts and retains effective teachers is as telling as it is diverse.

    (For the record, my current principal’s response focused on small class sizes, a schoolwide discipline program, and wasting teaches time as little as possible. I was sold.)

    • April 18th, 2010 at 3:56 pm      Reply alicemercer Says:

      Yeah, teaching was my first unionized position too, and there is a lot of focus on money, but it’s amazing how important those other things can be. My suggestion to the district was that they lower the class size (which they’ve done at other “prioritized” schools in the past), and provide solid support services, rather than just “buying” pain and suffering from the teachers. They may well do those things in addition to the bonuses.
      Thanks for the comment!

    • April 18th, 2010 at 3:57 pm      Reply alicemercer Says:

      I forgot to mention, folks should really click on your name and check out your Math Stories blog. It’s been in my reader for a while now, and I’ve been pleased.

  2. April 27th, 2010 at 8:03 am      Reply PeonInChief Says:

    Mizmercer, Upper Branch was a non-union mine. In fact, union mines in the US have few deaths. The problem is that so many miners aren’t represented by a union.

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