|Chester Upland Teachers Will Be Working For Free, Indefinitely (image from Flickr, by danielmoyle)|
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) slashed $900 million in state education funds last year, according to Think Progress. As a result, the Chester Upland School District in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, which gets nearly 70% of its funding from the state, expects a $19 million shortfall. The school district has told its teachers that by Wednesday it will not be able to pay their salaries. So the teachers, with the support of their union, have decided to work for free.
The school board and the unions both asked Corbett to provide financial aid for the district, but he refused. Pennsylvania’s Education Secretary Ron Tomalis said the district was being punished for failing to properly manage its finances. However, even if the district hadn’t mismanaged its finances, no worker should be expected to nor should they volunteer to work for free. By doing so, not only have they become slave laborers, they have weakened their bargaining positions when revenue becomes available to start paying them again.
From the bosses’ perspective, if the workers are such true believes that they’d work for free, then they’d certainly work for less and do more if asked—something that was happening even before the district ran out of money. Last fall, Chester Upland laid-off 40% of its professional staff and about half of its unionized support staff, leaving class sizes of over 40 students. They also withheld pay hikes worth approximately $800,000 from its teachers, in violation of its contract with them.
Of course it is terrible that the district is out of money and that the children will suffer. However, it is not the teachers’ fault, nor their responsibility. Working for free doesn’t fix the problem, either. Kids will still be in overcrowded classrooms, which is both unsafe and pedagogically unsound. The schools will still be unable to afford supplies. And the teachers will gradually stop coming to work when their own bills start to pile up and other means of earning a living become available.
A scab is someone who undermines workers’ struggle to improve their pay and working conditions by replacing them on the job during a strike or by working for lower wages. Teachers who work for free are serving as scabs for their bosses. They are bailing their bosses out and giving them a free ride for their mistakes and corruption. They are helping the bosses to underpay and overwork them.
They are also undermining other workers’ struggles by sending the message that at least some workers are willing to work for free if they think they are providing a public good. Considering the deplorable condition of so many other state budgets, it would not be surprising to hear that other school districts and social service providers can no longer afford to pay salaries. The administrators of these agencies might very well look to Chester Upland for inspiration.