Social Question

Blackberry's avatar

Why are some people upset with the amount of money teachers, military, and union workers are paid? I'm not sure I understand the argument.

Asked by Blackberry (31878points) December 1st, 2011

Is it a sort of government money abuse thing? Or are they actually upset about the amount of money they are making?

Has anyone heard of these arguments? Why are some people upset with the pay of teachers, military, and union people?

I’m not familiar with the systems of teachers and union workers.

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30 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Teacher’s don’t make that much money. They do ok, but not anything like executives. People just like to bitch in general.

MrItty's avatar

What’s to understand – teachers & military provide basically the two most important services in the world – education of the young and defense of our country – and they get paid crap. On the other hand, folks like professional athletes and movie stars, who exist only for our entertainment, get paid more money than anyone could possibly need or even want. It’s unfair, and unjust, and therefore people are unhappy about it.

Blackberry's avatar

@MrItty Oh, sorry. I meant the people are against how much the teachers, military, and union are paid.

MrItty's avatar

…. are you asking about people who actually have the gall to suggest that teachers and military members make too much? In that case, the answer is far simpler: They’re f’ing nuts.

wonderingwhy's avatar

To my understanding the anger is more over the unions and stems from their being unreasonable and inflating the costs associated with employing their people (everything from benefits to pay to hires/fires).

Unions themselves can be a good thing in terms of protecting workers and getting better deals across the board but with all the budget cutting people are getting riled over the unions “unwillingness to negotiate” and their essentially saying “cut all you want but if you touch our people in any way we’ll retaliate”.

Not sure how much is union unwillingness and how much is rhetoric from the people doing the cutting, but that’s the perception I’ve had from various articles and conversations. I suspect both sides are contributing to the problem and associated angst/hate.

JLeslie's avatar

@Blackberry I think it is because the unions have effectively faught and won getting workers incredible benefits and safety nets not seen in most industries. Teachers (I am only discussing k-12 in my answer) can get tenure and basically it is almost impossible to fire them. How many people have that sort of guarantee in their job? Also, when lay offs happen for down sizing reasons, the teachers who have been their the least amount of time get let go first. It is not based on merit or how good a teacher is at their job, just simple rules, last in first to go. Too many people it smacks in the face of logic, good business, and what would be best for the children.

Car unions getting free medical benefits for workers throughout their retirement, and incredibly high wages in some cases, because of a systematic pay increase, rather than looking at the actualy jobs being done, mean people with long stays in a position can wind up making more than seems objectively reasonable. The retirement benefits I once saw means an additional $2k added on to each American car sold to sustain the obligation promised, although I am not sure if that is indeed the actual number.

All unions in fact make it difficult to fire a worker. There is good and bad with that situation. Union workers also have been known to say, “that is not in my job discription,” when asked to do a task outside of their job description.

Military I have no answer for.

CWOTUS's avatar

It’s not quite as simple as you suggest, @Blackberry.

It’s not that teachers and military people (or those in unions, for that matter) ‘make too much money’, it has more to do with the administration of those organizations than with the people working those jobs. That is, public schools often have quite bloated administrative staffs and follow bureaucratic rules (such as many of the ludicrous “zero tolerance” polices on things as benign as students hugging or holding hands while walking on school grounds), yet have grossly overpaid staffers administering these policies, without even having to think about them. However, “teachers” are more visible than “invisible bureaucrats”, and are the “face” of the school system.

Most union workers also work hard and do good things, but they’re represented by organizers, “labor leaders”, business agents and the like who promote their union often at the cost of basic common sense. (Sort of like some of the service rivalries that I’m sure you’re aware of in the military. Very often Army / Navy / Air Force leaders promote their branch or their operations in the face of what would be very sensible cooperation.)

In the case of both teachers and general labor unions, the unions also have work rules and policies against dismissal that protect the rights of the worst performers, at the cost of the best.

marinelife's avatar

Teachers are union workers, but they are not paid nearly enough. Neither is the military. And union workers are entitled to good pay and benefits.

Blackberry's avatar

@CWOTUS @JLeslie Interesting. That is a valid argument.

Judi's avatar

I am pro union all the way, but I have to tell you that sometimes their contracts are a bit crazy. When My daughters MIL (a teacher) found out she was dieing from cancer, she was able to assign her pension (at a reduced rate, but not that reduced) to her so. (My son in law.)
For the rest of his life (and he’s 30) he will get over $1000 a month from his mothers pension.
Did I tell him to turn it down? Heck no, but I understand why California is going broke. No one else gets these kinds of benefits.
It’s stuff like this that makes people mad at public employee unions anyway.
What timing. Just went to facebook and saw that the Governor is going to be speaking on his new “Pension Plan” in 3 minuets. I wonder if he’ll change that.

tedd's avatar

The argument against them is that Unions have managed to get better pay and benefits for teachers (I’ve not heard military complaints) and other government employees, than either their work calls for or the private market would pay them. They also accuse teachers and various government employees of being lazy and basically doing nothing, while Unions protect them from being fired.

IMO, while those assumptions can probably be found in isolated incidents, they are grossly overstated and not the case for your typical employee. With the case of teachers in particular, they are ridiculously underpaid.

JLeslie's avatar

@judi I tend to be anti-union, but I think they are a necessary evil, because industry can be so evil. The problem is the union itself is its own corporation that wants to survive, and can take on some of the same unreasonable selfishness of any company. Things like promises made for pensions upset me most, because for those who do retire amd count onthat money and benefit, it is outrageous to me to change any benefit when people are older and retired. Being realistic up front is the most fair thing to everyone, the employeer and labor. The problem in America in my opinion is no one wants to think long term.

wundayatta's avatar

No one forces anyone to make an agreement. Management is just as responsible as the union for agreeing to a contract between them. Both sides use all kinds of tactics to gain a stronger position. Yes, some of those tactics are illegal or immoral. On both sides. In my opinion, more on management’s side. Workers, in my opinion, are always weaker.

Whatever teachers can win at the bargaining table—more power to them. The thing is that government worker unions seem to go against weaker management. It’s the people we elect who agree to contracts with unions, and if we don’t like those contracts, we need to elect politicians who will stand up to unions.

So people have elected such candidates—the Govs of Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states, President Reagan, and so on.

So lets hold the line on teachers. Give them less wages and pensions. Let’s see what happens. Will the teachers go elsewhere to make more money? Will we get poorer quality teachers? I don’t know. The only way to know is to try it and see.

As far as I’m concerned, the public schools are already very bad. Losing the few good teachers they have can’t make them much worse. But I don’t know. In today’s economy, they probably won’t lose those teachers. In any case, it’s not the teacher’s fault. It’s the idiots we hire to manage the school systems. They are politicians and even if they are not, they work for politicians so few can actually implement methods we know work better than what they do. They always complain about lack of money, but that’s not it either.

What happens is the exact opposite of what should happen. The politicians see the schools doing poorly, and so they get all involved and insist on developing metrics for education. This forces everyone to focus on the metric to the exclusion of other things—like real education. The result is that political meddling in schools makes them worse.

Instead of clamping down on schools, we need to let them free. Unions are not necessarily a barrier in this process. We can negotiate with them and get them to buy into what we want to do. Perhaps they will even be excited about it because it gives their folks more power.

I’ve worked for various unions, both as an employee and as a consultant, and I have experienced some pretty dysfunctional management within those organizations. I’ve also seen some pretty good people. All in all, I couldn’t say who is worse: management or the union. No point in saying, anyway.

What we need to do is solve problems. Sometimes the labor relations system gets in the way of solving problems. Sometimes the political process gets in the way. Sometimes individuals get in the way. Sometimes corporations…. oh. Wait. Corporations are individuals. No need to say it again.

People get upset with teacher salaries because they don’t know shit, in my opinion. They are frustrated and they want good education for their kids and it’s easy to point a finger at something that is unpopular. Like I say, there is plenty of blame to go around everywhere.

So, to answer your question, people are upset with government salaries because they are frustrated with the poor services they get. They don’t know what else to do. Or maybe they do. They blame politicians. They blame unions. Some even blame corporations. Anyone left to blame? Teacher salaries are symbolic and thus are “hot button.” All it really means is people want better service and haven’t a clue about how to get it.

CWOTUS's avatar

Actually, one other argument that people (certain taxpayers, anyway) have against teachers’ unions and public employee unions in general is that no one seems to adequately represent them (that is, “the taxpayers”) during negotiations.

This is the crux of the recent contretemps in Wisconsin, where the recently elected governor attempted to do away with public employee collective bargaining. It’s very easy to read this as “simple union busting”, which is how his opponents have portrayed it. But if you consider that “state executives” negotiating with “public employee unions” only nominally represents taxpayer interests. Considering that some of the sweetheart deals of the past between state and union negotiators now threaten to bust state budgets (and have almost never improved schools), it’s no surprise to many that there’s a lot of popular resentment against “the unions” in general and the state negotiators and legislators as well.

janbb's avatar

I can’t get into this right now at length but one of the main reasons traditionally for public employees having good benefits and security was because the salaries were and are lower than the private sector. That is the trade-off. Big corporations have successfully busted the power of private sector unions so now the anti-union folk are trying to bust the public sector unions as well.

Aethelflaed's avatar

I think for teachers, it’s often a lack of understanding how much the teachers are paid and how much work they do. Because of how little time teachers spend in the physical classroom, many people think that means that’s the total number of hours worked, forgetting to include things like time spent grading or planning lessons or in meetings with students or tutoring or doing various admin things that are a part of every job. And while very, very few teachers actually have a summer break (most need to take on a summer job in order to make ends meet), there’s a lot of people that think that teachers just get this paid 3-month vacation. So then what they think is going on is not so much that they’re getting paid really well, but that they’re getting paid the same amount as someone who works 40 hours a week 51 weeks of the year for working 15 hours a week only 9 months of the year. Again, this is a total misperception of how much work teachers do, what their benefits are, etc, but that’s one view.

JLeslie's avatar

In DC Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of DC schools a few years ago, proposed giving teachers double their salary if they would let go of tenure. It would be the teachers option, not forced upon them, and the union would not even let the idea be presented to the teachers. This is the sort of thing that really irks me about unions. I mean let’s make sure we are still letting the people, the actual employees, have a voice.

Jude's avatar

Great pay (and benefits) for teachers over here (Canada).

wundayatta's avatar

@CWOTUS The politicians are supposed to represent the taxpayers. But the taxpayers are not of one mind. Some want the politicians to hold the line against salary increases for public employees. Others want the politicians to give everyone a job, whether they know how to do anything or not.

The example of Greece shows us what happens when the latter attitude is carried to an extreme. I don’t think we need to get rid of collective bargaining in order to get a handle on salaries. I think that politicians who want to do that are being lazy. Looking for a quick fix. Quick fixes never last.

What we need are politicians who will negotiate with unions but who will be very tough. Destroying unions is short-sighted. It inevitably hurts service in a pretty serious way. negotiating toughly but fairly will get us where we want to go. But most politicians aren’t smart enough to do that, if they can even conceive that it is possible to do.

Paradox25's avatar

I can only answer a part of your question: military personel, expecially enlisted service members are definitely underpaid.

bkcunningham's avatar

I have never once in my life heard anyone say people in the military get paid too much or have too many benefits.

JLeslie's avatar

@bkcunningham The only time I have heard anything bordering on the military getting too many benefits is people complaining about spouses getting breast augmentations for free, that sort of thing.

bkcunningham's avatar

@JLeslie, the next time anyone tells you that spouses of military personel get breast augmentations for free, you can call bullshit on them.

Reconstructive Surgery
TRICARE covers cosmetic, reconstructive and plastic surgery to improve the physical appearance of a beneficiary only under the following circumstances:

Correction of a birth defect
Restoration of a body form following an accidental injury
Revision of disfiguring and extensive scars resulting from neoplastic surgery (i.e., surgery that removes a tumor or cyst)
Reconstructive breast surgery following a medically necessary mastectomy
Reconstructive breast surgery due to a congenital anomaly (birth defect)
Penile implants and testicular prostheses for conditions resulting from organic origins or for organic impotency
Surgery to correct pectus excavatum
Liposuction when medically necessary
Panniculectomy (tummy tuck) performed in conjunction with an abdominal or pelvic surgery when medical review determines that the procedure significantly contributes to the safe and effective correction or improvement of bodily function.
To be covered, surgeries must be performed no later than December 31st of the year following the accidental injury or surgical trauma, except in the case of postmastectomy reconstructive breast surgery or cases involving children who may require a growth period.

TRICARE does not cover cosmetic, reconstructive or plastic surgery related to:

Dental congenital anomalies
Elective correction of minor skin blemishes and marks
Breast augmentation
Face lifts
Reduction mammoplasties (breast reductions), except in the case of significant pain due to large breasts
Blepharoplasty (removal of excess skin of the eyelid)
Rhinoplasties (nose surgery)
Chemical peeling for the treatment of facial wrinkles or acne scars
Hair transplants
Removal of tattoos
Liposuction for body contouring.

JLeslie's avatar

@bkcunningham Oh, not to worry, I don’t even care if they do get augmentation for free. The doctors need to practice and learn for those who have severe injury. If the cosmetic surgeons have time in their schedule to do an at whim augmentation at a teaching hospital ok by me. It doesn’t cost much since it is military/socialized. The doctors and nurses are salaried, the operating room and recovery bed already exists. Just the cost of the meds, bandages, linens, and electricity really. Probably just a few hundred dollars. It isn’t like on the outside where the surgery is $6,000. Or, whatever they charge now.

JLeslie's avatar

@bkcunningham I know tricare is military, but it is confusing to me. When I was a dependent of my military dad we used Bethesda Naval Hospital, and I didn’t have tricare, I just showed my military ID and used the medical facility. Everything was free. I am assuming tricare is when military personnel either do not have a full medical facility where they are stationed or can’t get access to a particular specialty at their base.

bkcunningham's avatar

What was it, @JLeslie, Champus? That is the old name. It is now called Tricare. It is a triple option benefit plan for miliatry active duty and retired military.

JLeslie's avatar

@bkcunningham I know my parents had or have champus, but I never heard it mentioned until my dad retired. When I was little we just walked in with our military ID’s, I don’t remember ever having to deal with any insurance companies at all. I just walked up to get my chart, and then carried the chart to my doctor for my appointments. I received my medications on base for free. I never dealt with an insurance company, there was never a bill, or a statement when I was little. I should ask my parents, I was young afterall, so I might have been unaware, but I don’t think so.

bkcunningham's avatar

Your father had an assigned primary care manager with a military treatment facility, @JLeslie. There are no fees and no out-of-pocket expenses if you use that type of care, which is known as TRICARE Prime.

tedd's avatar

@bkcunningham A buddy I work with, a pretty staunch conservative by most counts (the libertarian brand), thinks the military is somewhat overpaid… mostly in the praise they get though. He basically views it as “they signed up for a job, and they’re doing the job, and they’ll be paid the agreed amount… why do I have to call them heroes and such?”

It boggles my mind, lol… and he is hardly the conservative standard on that front.

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