Freezing pay for K-12 educators: pros and cons

Compared to Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and New York, Minnesota’s approach to changing public employee compensation is minimalist. Senate File 56, authored by Dave Thompson, the Republican senator from Lakeville, focuses on one group with one proposal: a two-year pay freeze for all employees in K-12 education. “It’s unpleasant but necessary,” he says.
“Unpleasant but necessary”? The words are considerably more measured than those of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has called public employees “haves” and private-sector employees “have-nots.” And Thompson certainly used more fiery language when he was a talk-show host (and, full disclosure, a former colleague) at Hubbard Broadcasting’s AM1500 radio station. So far, the Minnesota bill has provoked no public protests, no political posturing.

And yet the debate is as polite and deadly serious as a fencing match.

“Policy makers are overreaching what local [school] boards are hired to do,” said Tom Dooher, president of the Education Minnesota teachers union.  

Thompson respectfully parries that school districts don’t have that flexibility; that they are required to give raises that result in cutting staff and programs.

 “Are we gonna ask employees to hold the line so ultimately it’s not going to affect the students?” he asks. “For me, it’s really a matter of trying to do something that needs to be done as a short-term solution to what can only be called a fiscal crisis in our school system.”

Dooher and Thompson disagree on all points. Thompson says the bill will save as much as $80 million for the two-year freeze period, a dollar amount generated by the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. “I don’t know where they’re getting that number,” Dooher says. “It will do nothing to address the real pressure on school budgets.”

“I think it will get to the governor’s desk,” Thompson says. “Look, the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune endorse this.”

Dooher maintains that “not all the Republicans agree that a pay freeze is the best way to go.”  And he adds, “You’ve got a Democratic governor and he’s going to look at this differently.”

Historical argument
Touche. But Thompson counters with a historical argument, invoking FDR: “President Franklin Roosevelt did not support government unions. He said the concept was ‘unthinkable and intolerable.’ The first AFL-CIO President, George Meany said ‘It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.'”

Introduced just days after the start of the 2011 session, Senate File 56 found a co-author, Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa), earlier this month. Now both versions are awaiting further committee action, but Thompson is confident, especially given the national debate.  

Dooher, too, is aware of what’s happening in other states with an apprehension that, he said, began with the November election. “When we saw the makeup [of the Legislature and Congress], you could see the mood of the country with some of this stuff,” he said. “Politics is about compromise, and there are some who don’t want to compromise.”

For Thompson, it’s compromise that results in change. “It’s really important to describe the issues in terms of what is necessary to balance the state budget,” he said. “Are you out to bust the unions? Absolutely not. This is not about busting or harming or anything like that. Do I believe we can continue the path we are on without seriously damaging the state?” His answer again: absolutely not.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 03/03/2011 - 11:31 am.

    FDR opposed public labor strikes. Public labor strikes are already illegal in Wisconsin. FDR supported public unions.

    Using only half a quote from half a letter is very disingenuous, and Fox like. Please, next time, include the entire context. Here is the rest of FDR’s letter:

    I’ll emphasize FDR’s key phrase—

    Organizations of Government employees have a logical place in Government affairs.

    Reading your letter of July 14, 1937, I was especially interested in the timeliness of your remark that the manner in which the activities of your organization have been carried on during the past two decades “has been in complete consonance with the best traditions of public employee relationships.” Organizations of Government employees have a logical place in Government affairs.

    The desire of Government employees for fair and adequate pay, reasonable hours of work, safe and suitable working conditions, development of opportunities for advancement, facilities for fair and impartial consideration and review of grievances, and other objectives of a proper employee relations policy, is basically no different from that of employees in private industry. Organization on their part to present their views on such matters is both natural and logical,

  2. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 03/03/2011 - 11:34 am.

    When will they ask for shared sacrifice from the people that caused this financial crisis? Calls for shared sacrifice ring hollow when only working families are asked to sacrifice while others are given tax cuts.

    Teachers did not cause the banks to fail

    Teachers did not invent unintelligible derivatives

    Teachers did not fall asleep at the regulatory wheel

    Teachers did not manipulate Wall Street to fail

    Teachers did not sell risky mortgages

    Teachers did not ship jobs overseas

    Teachers do not have multi-million dollar golden parachutes when they screw up

  3. Submitted by Molly Redmond on 03/03/2011 - 12:26 pm.

    What happened to the sacred value of local control? Isn’t that why we have local school boards in each community?
    Republicans are always hollering against “big government.”How hypocritical is it for them to impose this huge top-down mandate on each school district?
    What’s next? Standardizing all school calendars? Requiring uniforms? Choosing every district’s textbooks?

  4. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/03/2011 - 05:02 pm.

    “Pros and cons”? We never hear why this bil would be considered necessary. The article gives us a little hollow rhetoric from the sponsor (toned down, we are told from his previous pattern of verbal bomb-throwing). A feeble denial, just to provide that balance, and then some pointless, and largely irrelevant, quotations from supposed liberal icons against public sector unions.

    Thanks, Ms. Brucato. Another waste of the readers’ time.

  5. Submitted by Tommy Johnson on 03/04/2011 - 07:49 am.

    So Dave Thompson, allegedly a “local control” and “free market” kinda guy, wants to inflict “wage controls” on school teachers. Imagine that.

    Why stop there? Why isn’t he demanding “price controls” too? The cost of diesel is skyrocketing; you know – KNOW – that’s putting a BIG hurt on school board budgets. How come Senator Nixon, er, ‘scuse me, “Thompson” isn’t riding to the rescue with price controls on diesel to save the school’s budgets?

    When are the GOPer going to propose price controls on, say, text books?

    Here’s a hint: they won’t. Because today’s GOP is all about protecting their Boardroom Base.

    There’s a big difference between today’s GOP and DFL. The DFL believes corporations exist to serve society; the GOP believes people exist to serve Corporations.

    I highly recommend people go rent the movie “Rollerball” starring James Caan; that’s the future GOPer leaders dream of.

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/04/2011 - 09:04 am.

    Why is it that appeals to authority are so powerful to the Republican mind? Sen. Thompson genuinely believes that an out of context remark from a politician 70 years ago has persuasive power today. Why does he think that way?

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