Unions Oppose Privatization

Published May 1, 1998

Privatization and performance contracting are two of several “deleterious programs” identified by the National Education Association, which has a specific staff member available to call “for help in fighting privatization.” An example of how the NEA fights privatization is described in the February issue of NEA Today, where NEA local affiliates in Barre City, Vermont, helped forestall a proposal to privatize school janitorial services.

Although the affected janitors were members of AFSCME, the members of the Barre and Barre Town Education Associations provided “advice, labor, legwork” to the AFSCME local in fighting what one union official called “the greed of private business.” Through a combination of letters to the editor, house meetings, and door-to-door petitioning, the school board was induced to approve a ban on privatizing janitorial services until the year 2000.

According to the NEA reporter, “The anti-privatization effort took many forms, including warnings of a loss of both public control over contractors and a quality, caring school workforce.”

Union efforts to save jobs were noticeably absent when the Detroit Public Schools fought to close the Baron-Romulus School of Choice, a privately managed school for Detroit dropouts, established by the Romulus School District in 1996. According to the Mackinac Center’s Joseph Lehman, the city was unable to get the courts to close the school but found a legislator willing to snuff it out by inserting a few words in a 1997 school aid bill. As a result, 225 staff members lost their jobs and 2,700 dropouts lost their school.