Phi Beta Cons

The Truth About Faculty Unions

In the mythology of progressivism, labor unions are always a force for good, helping supposedly downtrodden people get a “fair shake” from their wealthy and powerful overlords.That’s mostly bunk, and especially so when unions who represent government employees get in power. The leaders of such unions don’t have to worry about bankrupting the employer and are free to indulge in their political fancies while scooping up plenty for themselves.

In today’s Pope Center Clarion Call, Brooklyn College professor Mitchell Langbert takes a very critical look at the union to which he must pay dues, the Professional Staff Congress. He argues that the PSC does a poor job of representing the interests of full time faculty because it has many members with different and even conflicting interests, adjuncts in particular.

Another serious drawback to this union (and I think we find the same thing pretty much everywhere) is that it demands a rigid salary schedule that is the same for all departments and disciplines. The problem is that while the school can compete for faculty in fields where there’s a glut and the individuals don’t really have non-academic options (English, sociology, etc.), it can’t compete in fields like accounting where there are lucrative non-academic options. He notes that his school has run “repeated searches for professors with PhDs in accounting” without success. But because union bosses believe that they’ll lose “solidarity” if they allow pay differentials by fields or premiums for exceptionally good performance, they hold their ground. 

Unions are essentially non-profit businesses and the leaders put their own interests first.

Another nasty feature of the PSC is the way it spends on political causes that have nothing to do with the workplace. The leaders are all zealous leftists and like to do their part for the movement by using members’ dues money. The union heads know that they’re legally required to refund to dissidents their share of such expenditures, but make it as hard as possible for them to find out exactly how much is spent for what. In a case litigated a few years ago by another faculty member, it was discovered that the PSC had categorized as “office supplies” its spending for public rallies, picket lines, and letter-writing campaigns.

Langbert concludes that unionization has proven to be “a bad deal for students, for taxpayers, and for many faculty members.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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