New Republic: In Praise Of Public Employee Unions As debate swirls across the country about the role of public sector unions, The New Republic's Timothy Noah argues they are still necessary to protect workers' rights and incomes.
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New Republic: In Praise Of Public Employee Unions

A banner showing the state of Wisconsin in the shape of a fist for union solidarity is seen July 28, 2011 during a protest on Capitol Hill. Last week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker survived a recall attempt pushed by the state's public sector union members, who are upset over the Governor's decision to eliminate collective bargaining rights. Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

A banner showing the state of Wisconsin in the shape of a fist for union solidarity is seen July 28, 2011 during a protest on Capitol Hill. Last week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker survived a recall attempt pushed by the state's public sector union members, who are upset over the Governor's decision to eliminate collective bargaining rights.

Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

Timothy Noah is a senior editor at The New Republic.

In the wake of the failed Wisconsin recall vote we're hearing an awful lot about those spoiled government employees with their flush pay packages and their godawful unions. The worst, of course, are the teachers' unions. They are responsible for everything that's gone wrong in America today. Government leaders urge that they restrain their demands, but in vain.

But according to this June 5 article from the Dallas Morning News, Dallas's incoming superintendent of schools — a government leader, right? — will enjoy a base salary of $300,000. His chief of staff will make $225,000. His chief of communications (i.e., press agent) will make $185,000. And his "chief of talent and innovation," whatever that is (it's a new position), will make $182,000.

All of these people make more money than the Dallas police chief, who makes do with about $175,000. Meanwhile, those greedy Dallas teachers, who are represented by the American Federation of Teachers, bump along with an average salary of about $56,000. That's nearly 20 percent below the average household income in the U.S. ($67,530).

Being a teacher is back-breakingly difficult work. It is also extremely important work. Being the press agent or innovation chief for the school superintendent is, by comparison, fairly easy, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the hours are much shorter. It's also fairly trivial. Being superintendent or the superintendent's chief of staff is important work, but there's no chance it's as difficult as being a teacher, and I hesitate to say that it's as important. The boss always makes more, and I guess we can't begrudge him that. But for the boss to make more than six times more than the average teacher is freaking outrageous.

"It certainly sends up red flags to the employees and to the taxpayers of this city," Rena Honea, president of the AFT local in Dallas, told me. That's especially true, she noted, at a time when funding for public education is being cut state- and citywide, when teachers' workdays are being extended 45 minutes with no additional pay, and when teachers can't get a contract that extends more than a single year. If current economic circumstances require sacrifices from underpaid Dallas schoolteachers, why the hell don't they require sacrifices from the superintendent and his entourage?