GEA, School Board Both Have Failed Strategically
These negotiations may be a chess game, but one bad move can haunt you for years.
All right! Now that we’ve dispensed with the District 304 contract negotiation basics, it’s time to talk about a teachers strike. And we’ll be discussing the long-term ramifications here because everybody knows what the immediate consequences are.
But before we depart, we need to apply an appropriate framework so that we’re all on the same page. Taking a cue from military history, we’ll break this conflict down into three separate, but eminently interrelated parts.
The first is the “tactical,” or what’s happening right here, right now. It’s a small slice of the big picture. You can win a tactical engagement, but lose the battle and vice versa.
Then there’s the “operational,” which means the battle as a whole. It’s the sum of the tactical efforts. Again, an operational victory can be so ill-conceived or so costly, that you lose the war.
I’m sure General Lee could've offered some cogent operational thoughts on, say, Gettysburg.
Lastly, we have the most important consideration: the strategic. This is the entire front or the war. It’s the big picture. Using our Civil War analogy, despite an early two-year battlefield domination, the South failed strategically and lost the war.
And I believe both sides have failed strategically in this Geneva teachers contract conflict. We’ll start with the teachers union, aka the Geneva Education Association.
In order to prevail in any public confrontation, you have to win the hearts and minds of—you guessed it—the public. The Chicago teachers union did a masterful job of doing just that. They gave up some tactical ground early, but then turned Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s snarling four-letter rants into an operational advantage.
The GEA should’ve been taking notes.
Instead of fighting TaxFACTS’ boardroom fire with fire, they could’ve exposed Bob McQuillan's group as the bullies they are and generated a reasonable amount of citizen sympathy. There’s a reason TaxFACTS can’t get its candidates elected and McQuillan can’t win an election.
Moving on. I understand the GEA can neither compel nor prevent a teacher from speaking publicly, but the educators who took to that boardroom podium made me cringe. They horrifically undermined their own cause.
Whenever a six-figure-salaried employee gets up and whines about the need for raises—even if it’s for other folks—it’s like a gay Democrat attending a Tea Party gathering and hoping it turns out well.
One can only wonder where that union might be if the teachers had stayed out of the boardroom, forsaken the green shirts, and simply given McQuillan & Co. the rope with which they've always been willing to hang themselves.
Comparing District 304 salaries to neighboring districts didn’t help matters, either. Were I on that board, my response to that union contention would’ve been to encourage their subjects to submit an application to those districts—along with the 600 other applicants.
So instead of generating public support, emails to the district/board are running 10 to 1 against the teachers and my email ratio is even worse. In an era in which you can’t get 9-of-10 people to agree the sky is blue, that’s really something.
Considering this vast strategic failure, should the teachers strike—even for one short day—that ill-conceived tactical maneuver will put TaxFACTS in the driver’s seat for years to come. And if that doesn’t scare you, then you’d probably be OK with a Sarah Palin presidency.
Not only are some folks in the TaxFACTS group salivating over the possibility of a strike, they're counting on it!
A strike means TaxFACTS gets their School Board slate elected. If you think these negotiations are contentious, just wait. It also means that group will finally enjoy the popular support that has eluded them for so long.
Please understand, I’m not backing anyone here, least of all a self-aggrandizing mob. I’m simply stating what I believe will happen if there is a strike.
The GEA is looking over the thin edge of a very dark and deep abyss and, trust me, there ain’t nothing good down there. Sometimes a strategic retreat means you get to fight another day.
But on to the School Board. Because a previous iteration of that body also made a strategic mistake.
Though I loved former board President Tim Moran’s high-road refusal to renegotiate contracts during the depths of a recession, that’s exactly when they had the political capital to get concession.
When every other school district was firing teachers and rehiring them at a lower rate, our board should’ve gone carpe diem because people have very short memories and gratitude is a thing of the past.
Don’t get me wrong, I love it when public officials stick to their guns, but it can be a self-defeating endeavor. Communism as described by Karl Marx is beautifully religious, but it doesn’t work in the real world.
The board’s failure to take advantage of that opportunity will continue to haunt us.
So, while it may be too late for the board, I would hope the teachers union understands the strategic ramifications of their tactical and operational maneuvers. Because if they strike now, they may win the battle, but I guarantee you, they will lose the war.