Monday, December 12, 2005


When I was a manager in Dallas, Texas many years ago, my Chicago based regional manager told me that the U.S. would become like Japan; once an employee was hired on and gained tenure, the employee had a job guaranteed for the rest of their life. While I greatly respected Mr. Charles Morse, I told him I did not believe that would come to pass in this country. I certainly saw the possible advantages for the company and the employee. I also saw the potential downfall of the company or organization who promised lifetime employment to any employee.

The small town farming community where I grew up, Congerville, this community like all rural communities assisted those in real need and until they could again take care of themselves. Families were more intact and there was less materialism. Those who left the community to work for city companies never expected that they had lifetime employment if they didn’t meet the needs of their employer or if the company could not afford to keep them employed. Those able to work worked. Those who didn’t want to work moved from job to job or lived off their relatives and friends. Those unable to work were cared for by the community. The communities produced solid citizens.

How things have changed. An article in the JS on 12/5/05 reads “Study: Tenure Means Job Security”. It proceeds “Illinois teachers are rarely fired if they have tenure; it’s next to impossible for Illinois teacher to lose their jobs”. The article states that strong teachers unions and high costs related to legal appeals often scare many school districts form getting rid of even the worst tenured teachers. Clyde Seniers, superintendent of Cicero Elementary School is quoted “When I hire talented new college graduates I tell them “You are going to meet a lot of people in this profession who just shouldn’t be in it. But there is not a lot that can be done to hold them accountable because of tenure”.

Jim Dougherty, president of the Illinois Teacher Federation of Teachers, says “so few teachers are fired because so few need to be”. Hmmmmnm. Let’s look at the procedure to fire a teacher. Under a reform law passed 18 years ago, every school district except Chicago must recommend tenured teacher’s dismissal to an arbitrator. Arbitrators have ruled in 35% of the cases that the teacher should not be fired. The Geneseo school district has spent more than $400,000.00 in attorney fees over the past five years fighting appeals stemming from the firing of ONE tenured teacher.

Of the 95,000 tenured teachers employed in the state an average of only two per year are fired for poor performance. Another five a year are fired for misconduct. Public bodies are “plain out scared” to fire even the worst performing person because of fears of excessive litigation costs. 7 fired out of 95,000??

So my old boss was partly right. The public sector and some of the private sector in the U.S. is going the way of Japan. The Japanese model failed.

Many of the tenured teachers and other tenured people are promoted on the basis of length of time with the system instead of on their ability. Promotion by tenure instead of ability continues to deteriorate our public bodies, especially in the public school system. Expect more and more people moving to locations where the teachers are better, aren’t worried about tenure and the classrooms are less disruptive. Expect more “choice” schools being created for those parents who are concerned about the education of their children.

Northmoor is the perfect example of a well run school with a talented principal and staff. A large part of their success comes from being an Edison school. Superintendent Hinton and perhaps a majority of board members now talk of abolishing this “choice” system instead of reducing costs in other areas.

By contrast, an article in Forbes Magazine on 11/14/05 quotes Google CEO Eric Schmidt commenting on Goggle’s torrid growth, “this company loves to talk it out, jettisoning hierarchy, business silos and layers of management for a flatter “networked” structure where the person with the best data wins. He says “Google employees 5,000 painstakingly chosen people, sets up small, tightly focused teams, setting them up in an instant and breaking them down without remorse”.

Again, by contrast, many public schools hire whoever applies. Some weak school boards and administrators, overly protective unions with skilled attorneys and apathy in some communities have allowed “situations” within the schools that make it unattractive to be a teacher. Visit classrooms and you will see what some good and poor teachers have to put up with today. When I visit a school with strong principal and good teachers, I regain my confidence that the public schools can still succeed.

I left teaching after five great learning years and joined the business world. Since then it has been 50 years of continually learning and the more I learn the more I realize that while our public schools are some of the best in the world, many are failing or at least part of the system is failing. Having been a teacher, coach, business leader and now working as an elected official in the public sector, I am convinced that the public sector must be run more like a successful private business. To do that means more talented people are needed in the all the public sector ranks. Too attract more talented people; one major talent needed is “people skills”, we will need to make sweeping changes at the top starting with changes in the ivory towers of Washington, DC and Springfield.

Basically, I am a union man. My company was represented by the Teamsters Union. We had a mutual respect for one another and only one grievance was filed in 22 years and that was filed by an employee’s son. He lost his case. Widmer Interiors after 35 years is still represented by the Teamsters Union and is a very successful company. There was never a strike or even informational picketing. Last Friday, the company accepted an award from Loyola University as the best small business in Illinois. When the partnership between unions and management becomes unbalanced, all private and public sectors suffer. Good management keeps the working relationship in balance.

Unfortunately, many parts of the public sector and some of the private sector like General Motors, is out of balance. While one side may think they have gained an advantage all will suffer when a mutual goal becomes lost in lust for power.

I could write a book on the subject of tenure. I invite your comments. Sorry I went “missing” for awhile but I’ll be back after the holidays with more regular blogging.

Thanks for keeping in touch.


Stormin' Norman said...

I've always held a steadfast belief that government jobs are simply a 'catch-all' for individuals who would never be able to hold a job in the private sector. This concept of tenure proves my point for how the unions still attempt to maintain their age-old control of power at the cost of productivity. I find your "only one grievance filed in 22 years" fact amazing. In the 'old days' at Cat, I saw the union steward grab a cup of coffee, meet up with the union member of the day, and sit down to file a grievance around 5:40pm EVERY DAY about anything. The most ludicrous one I ever came across was the filing of a grievance over flies in the open-air factory building. To resolve the grievance, the company's solution was to hand out tiny packets of Off! mosquito repellent. Plus I'll never forget the quote of the Ford UAW member who said something to the effect that he shows up at his designated time every day, and that it's up to the company to get eight hours of work out of him. Do you think I will ever buy a Ford product? No way. In a similar vein with tenure, do you think I would ever send one of my children to a public school? No way...

Anonymous said...


Insightful commments - I usually find your blogs a bit long but this one touched home.

Education system needs a does of accountability with will lead to reform. Right now, it is thriving in what I would catagorize a "protective market".

It is funny, as I have gotten older, I have learned to understand / appreciate the union cause, especially when I look at the explotation of workers, i.e., Walmart effect coupled with 16% of Americans do not have health insurance.