While most families, small businesses, and local governments have been tightening their belts to try and make ends meet during these difficult economic times, there always seems to be one sector of the workforce that thinks they ought to be immune from the same kinds of tough decisions that most of us are making every day: Unionized government employees. Case and point: The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers' union, which is refusing to ask its members to contribute a single dime toward their own health insurance. Instead, in classic public employee union fashion, they're demanding that taxpayers foot the bill for the union members entirely.
This outrageous and irresponsible stance on the part of the union has left the city's commission governing schools with little choice but to cancel the union's contract. Instead of continuing this ridiculous charade and jeopardizing the education of local students, the union should realize that not only is the request that teachers contribute to their own health insurance completely reasonable — it is also high time unions start doing their "fair share" to help the city's schools get back to financial solvency — protecting taxpayers and improving conditions for students who have suffered long enough.
The agreement proposed by the School Reform Commission would ask teachers to contribute between $27 and $71 a month toward paying for their own health care. Doing so would save the district $54 million this year, $30 million of which would be pumped back into schools, helping the district address challenges like large class sizes and roll back cuts to the arts and Advanced Placement classes. Some of the remaining $24 million would be used to stave off deficit next year and shore up funding streams for key academic programs. The Philadelphia school system is already under a special commission because of financial troubles — only the infamous school systems of Detroit and Pontiac, Michigan have lower bond ratings, according to Moody's. Moreover, Philly taxpayers have already been slapped with a sales tax increase and a $2-per-pack cigarette tax hike to provide additional education funding — on top of the taxes they already pay every year to fund city schools. The district itself has made reforms, too — consolidating facilities, lowering administrative costs, and achieving nearly $1 billion in other cost savings.
While there is surely more the district can do, a quick review of the situation suggests that everyone, most of all taxpayers, have made substantial concessions. Everyone, that is, except the union.
Unfortunately, it appears the union would rather subject students, taxpayers, and the district to more suffering, rather than ask their members to pay a portion of the cost of their own health insurance premiums, the way most Americans already do.
Taxpayers respect teachers and are willing to adequately fund education to benefit children, but how much of taxpayers' hard-earned money is actually going into the classroom versus just paying for unreasonable benefits negotiated by a powerful special interest union?
The case of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers is a perfect example of what has gone wrong with teachers' unions. Across the country, union bosses seem to have lost touch with reality. While millions of Americans struggle through the worst job market in decades, rising health care costs, and the burden of an increasingly expensive government, teachers' unions remain stubborn and unrealistic — blocking badly needed spending reforms and other common-sense policies like paycheck protection, school choice, and "Right to Work."
Taxpayers should encourage the Philadelphia School Reform Commission to remain steadfast in asking union members to contribute to their own health insurance costs, and demand that union bosses get in line with reality, stop the ridiculous demands, and start thinking about what is best for students.
Perhaps then we can continue the conversation about implementing additional common-sense reforms in Philadelphia — and the entire state of Pennsylvania — reforms that will ultimately benefit students, workers, taxpayers, and the well-being of our state as a whole.
I'm Beth Anne Mumford State Director with Americans for Prosperity — Pennsylvania, the state's largest free-market grassroots advocacy organization. Find out more at www.americansforprosperity.com/pennsylvania.