Now, maybe nobody entertains that thesis. Fine. This is a straw man argument anyway (in the sense that it’s not fully developed, not in the sense that I’m deliberately putting it out there to be defeated. I happen to think it’s probably correct. I just haven’t thought about it too much yet.) But I think that some people do entertain the thesis. Namely, I think teachers entertain this thesis.

I maintain that there is no possible way the strike can be for the students. That is: no teacher that is striking can believe that what they are doing by striking is helping the students in any way. Put another way: the strike can only possibly be for the teachers (or their union bosses, which seems equally likely, even if the teachers don’t realize it).

Laid out as a proper argument:

Premise 1: It is better for students to be in class than not in class.

Premise 2: Students would be in class if there were teachers.

Premise 3: There would be teachers if there wasn’t a union.*

Conclusion: Students are harmed by the teachers union.

* Detail of this premise

Let’s say there is no union – in the legal sense. Let’s say teachers could still strike if they wanted to. (In the private sector this is equivalent to quitting or threatening to quit. It’s basically equivalent to striking, at least in this context.) A teacher that is unhappy with their salary strikes. They are replaced by another teacher because there are lots of teachers; or, at least, there are lots of people seeking jobs who could become teachers. This replacement is better than, equal to, or lesser than in skill to the existing teacher. Doesn’t really matter, and ignore salary for now. In any case, the student is getting taught and is better off. Now, if the salary is less than before (regardless of skill), then the taxpayer is better off. If the salary is equal then the taxpayer is no worse off. The salary wouldn’t be higher because then the first teacher wouldn’t have striked in the first place (let’s assume this is true; doesn’t really matter if it’s not). So, the bottom line is that without unions there are essentially equivalent teachers and the student is better off in all cases and the tax payer is better off in some cases but never worse off. But in any case, back to premise 3: there is a teacher if there is no union. The important part of the union here is that the union can force the teacher to strike (can force all teachers to strike).

Now, you might counter that unions provide for better paid teachers. To which  I respond: pay and performance are decidedly not correlated. In fact, this is probably entirely the issue in Chicago and in other school districts. And, further, this rebuttal further underscores that unions are not good for students; unions are good for teachers’ salaries (and/or union boss’). Furthermore, if there were a correlation between pay and performance then there would be no need for unions. The market would pay appropriately. This is true even in the case of hard to measure outcomes (that is, hard to quantify products) (as some argue is the case in education) as long as taxpayers have some say in the level of their taxes devoted to paying salaries (as is usually the case).

What am I missing?

-JD Cross

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