Public employees are no threat

Public employees are no threat

Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 8:01 pm
By: Richard Chesteen

By RICHARD CHESTEEN
Thank God for the public union employees in Wisconsin.
I hope in every state where Republicans are seeking to destroy their rights to collective bargaining that similar protests occur. I wish the public employees of Tennessee had more backbone. The issue of the right to negotiate working conditions is not the same as the right to set one’s salary or benefits that are provided through public funding.
While public employees should be paid a fair salary in comparison with the private sector in their profession and in comparison with the going wages in the regional environment, certainly, teachers in Tennessee should not expect the same in salary as a teacher in California given the cost-of-living differential. However, a teacher in California should not be paid less than a sanitation worker in the same community in that state.
I would be less upset if I thought Republicans were concerned only with financial issues such as the state’s fiscal resources. However, when you have a state, like Tennessee, where the state judges are paid among the highest average salary of any state in the union, it does not explain why the teachers have to rank among the lowest paid. Or does it explain why the University of Tennessee board has, in the past, felt it necessary to pay its president one of the highest salaries of any president of a state higher education system.
The fact is, Republicans want to destroy public unions not just for fiscal reasons or better education policy but because they do not like the political leaning of most public employees, which is very often toward the Democratic Party. The Tea Partiers may think it is about balance budgets but they are misinformed on a lot of things, which is one reason why their policy influence should be moderated where necessary.
It is the bitterness with which the Republican politicians seek to implement their objectives toward public unions, particularly teachers, that is particularly concerning. This has been very evident in Tennessee. When Republican state Sen. Glenn Casada pressed the Tennessee Education Association TPAC to give equal campaign funding to his political party in the sate legislative races last year and was turned down, the scenario for payback was set. Never mind that Senator Casada did not call up the Tennessee Medical Association and suggest that its lobbying arm give the Democratic candidates equal campaign contributions.
Even aside from the fiscal issues or partisanship leanings is a more dangerous force that we see in what is going on in Nashville. It is a matter that should concern all open-minded Tennesseans. It is an effort to punish public teaches for their “supposedly” personal values. The Sunday edition of the Commercial Appeal presents ready evidence of these efforts. Former Republican state Sen. David Fowler was quoted as saying that “conservatives” (assuming he was mainly referring to anyone not a Democrat) have become concerned that teachers in Tennessee have shown support for the “Darwinian view of evolution.” And, current Republican Sen. Tracy Camfield claimed the TEA advocated a “homosexual lifestyle.” Both of these gentlemen are a danger to all who seek to be protected in the classroom so they can teach the accepted knowledge of their discipline without fear of reprisal or retribution.
It is difficult for me, knowing the level of education and professions of so many of our state Republicans, particularly our new Republican governor, that they allow these views to represent their party. They are anti-intellectual, anti-education, anti-equality, anti-social progress and anti-state economic development.
President Obama said it well when he noted that members of public employee unions are “our neighbors, they’re our friends. They make a lot of sacrifices and make a big contribution. And I think it’s important not to vilify them or to suggest that somehow all these budget problems are due to public employees.”
The values of Tennesseans are not threatened by what public employees in the state think or promote. They are our church deacons, our civic club leaders, our promoters of charitable causes, our Little League coaches, and our Girl Scout leaders. For Republican legislators to infer that they are a social or political threat to our children or our communities simply because they disagree with their political leanings or professional behavior is not only wrong, it is “sinister.”
Richard Chesteen, a longtime Union City resident, is professor emeritus in political science at the University of Tennessee at Martin. He is former chairman of the Obion County Democratic Party and was a gubernatorial candidate in 1994 Democratic Primary.

Published in  The Messenger 2.23.11

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