The lost art of compromise
Officially, West Virginia state Senate Bill 451 died on a Wednesday afternoon, when the House of Delegates left it “tabled indefinitely.” But in reality, it — and much about it that is good — perished at about 6:25 p.m. the previous Monday.
It was at about that time that leaders of three public school employee unions declared they had called their members out on strike. Once that occurred, SB 451, the “omnibus education bill,” was as good as dead.
Bury it in the same cemetery as the spirit of compromise that has served us well for many generations.
Clearly, compromise is dead in Washington, D.C. National politics has become a series of confrontations among people who are convinced they are 100 percent right on whatever issue is being discussed and those who believe the other side is 100 percent wrong. It is not enough that there can be no middle ground. Worse is that, from all ideological angles, those who disagree with us cannot be told merely that they are wrong. No, they must be evil.
In the private sector, compromise often is encouraged for financial reasons. Labor disputes are a good example. When a company’s employees go on strike, they stop receiving paychecks. Their company suffers because production and sales are reduced drastically. Everyone loses money — so everyone has a big incentive to come to whatever compromise is needed to end the strike.
Which is why state senators attempting to enact SB 451 were doomed politically the minute school employee unions called a strike.
Teachers and service personnel who stayed away from their jobs Tuesday and Wednesday were paid for those days, just as their checks were unaffected by the nine-day strike last year. Throughout the state, there was just one exception, in Putnam County. There, county officials kept schools open officially. Presumably, strikers who refused to go to work will have their pay docked.
But everywhere else, financial life went on for the strikers as if they were in their classrooms and behind the wheels of their buses.
Union leaders had no reason to compromise. Their members had no reason to refuse to obey the strike order. School employees not in sympathy with the strike — and there are some — had no reason to risk crossing picket lines and alienating their co-workers, not to mention school principals, superintendents and boards of education that in many cases were openly supportive of the work stoppage.
Operate schools with substitutes? Put yourself in a substitute teacher’s place. You could earn a few bucks crossing a picket line — but you would anger permanent teachers and quite possibly incur the displeasure of administrators. Knowing a school principal can ensure you never, ever, get called to substitute again, are a couple of days’ work worth the long-term risk? No.
Give the West Virginia unions credit for a feat of organization and coordination that has been copied by public employee unions in other states. Within minutes of their strike order Monday night, there was no way learning as usual was going to occur Tuesday.
And, as a majority of House of Delegates members recognized, the unions’ demands on SB 451 had to be met.
To reinforce that reality on everyone, union leaders kept their members out on the picket lines Wednesday — after House leaders pledged to kill the bill.
They also have said that if Senate leaders attempt by some procedural trick to resurrect SB 451, the strike will resume.
Unlike in the private sector, the school strikers have no financial incentive to compromise. Their union officials are determined to keep it that way.
One part of the original version of SB 451 would have docked the pay of school employees involved in a strike. Needless to say, killing that provision was one of the unions’ top priorities.
Mike Myer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.