I live in Spokane, Washington. Every city of note has some kind of “alternative” newspaper. Spokane has The Inlander. The thing about alternative newspapers is, they aren’t very alternative, as they tend to take the same positions as the biggest papers, which are overwhelmingly liberal. But I guess they are alternative in the sense of having less circulation and advertising, but far more marijuana, gambling and sexual advertising than the big ones. Anyway, I grabbed one at Starbucks—they’re free, the Inlander, not Starbucks—and read the comments section first, since it comes first. They always pose a question, and then publish comments, rather answers, from readers.
The question posed today was, “would you take a raise if it meant your co-worker got fired?” There were five different takes, and four of them were not stupid. The other was, well two choices, either stupid or brilliant. Take a guess. That response was, “I don’t think there’s any justice in that, and it’s not fair. It’s not equal rights. It’s equal rights for equal work, and that’s what I believe.” What? Do you remember that character, Edith Ann, that Lily Tomlin used to play on Rowan+Martin’s Laugh-In, back from 1969-1973? Edith Ann was a precocious five-and-a-half-year-old girl who waxed philosophical on everyday life, either about life as a kid or things for which she felt she had the answers, although she is too young to fully understand. She often ended her monologues with “And that’s the truth”, punctuating it with a noisy raspberry. Edith Ann sat in an over-sized rocking chair with her rag doll, Doris, while dispensing her wisdom. That young lady’s response could have come right from Edith Ann, with or without raspberry.
No justice in what? Getting paid more, or someone getting fired? Is it not elementary that a business has only so much to spend on workers, and if a worker is doing a bad enough job to be fired, what’s wrong with the owner rewarding someone doing a great job with more money? Conversely, here’s a basic truth of profitable business: You are paid the cost to replace you. Knowing this to be true, I used to constantly ask myself, “how can I make myself irreplaceable?” Of course, almost no one is, except perhaps Michael Jordan and Tom Brady, but it’s the principle. If that young skull full of mush—a la Rush Limbaugh—ever reads my blog, she will shit a brick and then complain that it’s not fair for bricks to be rough with sharp edges instead of smooth and round.
Back to unintended consequences. Spokane teachers voted on a new contract which would give most of them double digit pay raises. The vote in favor was 95%. Who doesn’t want more money? I mentioned Tom Brady, the winningest quarterback in history. Tom’s pay is lower than every starting quarterback in the league who isn’t on a rookie contract. What? Yes, he knows winning requires a whole team, and if his salary eats up too much of the salary cap, the team can’t surround him with great players. I guess no one ever taught the Spokane teachers, or any other teachers, that principle. The Inlander article says that when the new contract was ratified, “more than 1,500 educators erupted with cheers.”
Anyway, I might have voted for the contact too, but first would have asked does this mean the school district got more funding? Uh, no. Okay, then where is the money coming from for double digit pay raises? If this were the federal government, the answer would be “we’ll borrow more.” But most school districts can’t invent money, so a few months after the new contract went into effect, the layoffs started. In April the district announced 325 layoffs, 18.5% of the 1,758 teachers in the district. If a for-profit business made a promise it couldn’t afford to keep and had to cut expenses, who would most likely be laid off? Those who were producing the least value proportional to their salary, except for upper management, who have contracts, and lawyers on retainer. But in a school district, who gets laid off? Those with the least seniority. What does seniority usually mean in public school districts? In my experience spending many hours in teacher lounges, it usually means the least creative, most expensive, more years marinating in the bad attitude the closer to retirement they get. In other words, my opinion is that by and large the best teachers, certainly the best bargains, are like the Russell Wilsons on rookie contracts: Playing their asses off for less money, hungry to make themselves irreplaceable. But unlike the real world of business, they are also the first to get cut. Now I see why this issue of The Inlander started off with the raise question. In this case, I agree with the young skull full of mush….that’s unfair. How can such a system teach children what fair really is? Without the “acid test” and measuring stick of profit, and without the guidance of the eternal Word, fair is a phantom.