The Crime of the West Virginia Teacher Strike: Its time to replace radical school employees with Alexa

What a disaster that was in West Virginia. The teacher’s union strike that went on for 9 days as public employees used children to extort for themselves higher wages showed precisely why the Supreme Count is poised to outlaw public sector unions to begin with. The deal struck with the West Virginia governor is to give every public employee 5% in raises every year from here on which is a completely destructive approach to managing tax payer money. What the government of West Virginia signed up for are huge increases in pay for all their public employees that take no consideration into changing economic circumstances which essentially paint themselves into a long-term corner for which there will be no escape. The public-sector unions did the reprehensible, they shut down the productive tasks they were supposed to be commissioned to perform to demand out of tax payers a bottomless pit of income that essentially comes from every tax payer their system touches.

But what was the rush? The union radicles will say that their main issue is that they have poor insurance coverage but what they are clamoring for is something that doesn’t exist for people outside the public sector either. Insurance coverage in general is in a state of change and market forces are polished off and reintroduced to the process. What’s unusual in West Virginia is that the unions do not have collective bargaining power. Average wages for a West Virginia teacher are around $45,000 per year. With their sudden 5 percent increase that is several thousands of additional dollars per year for as long as they are employed, which is a lot of money. To many people that might seem like a lot, but public-sector employees complain about such high rates because they are comparing them to other places around the country—like across the border where average rates are about the same in Ohio, but in districts like mine at Lakota the average pay is much higher.

Really what should have happened was that every teacher who walked out and participated in the strike should have been terminated. Every public employee who helped with this mess should also be terminated, including the police. But in this case the employees felt they were in a do or die situation and their strongest position was now to take action so enough of them walked off the job across the state to shut down every school leaving kids stuck at home using them as bargaining chips to essentially extort more money away from the public trust. Because of the large increase that they received, school managements across the country will see more of this behavior in the coming months so a plan needs to be in place to deal with it.

The real pressure to act now is the knowledge that the Supreme Court is about to release a decision on public sector unions by June, and it looks like the strength of those organizations will decrease tremendously. That made West Virginia a strategic hot spot for a strike to attempt to get other unions to follow as a final protest hoping to rock the vote at the Supreme Court with this ominous warning. Since West Virginia didn’t have collective bargaining power what good would the upcoming Supreme Court ruling have to prevent similar strikes in the future? The leverage the unions wanted to put on display was that there simply wasn’t enough replacement teachers available to step into the classroom to cover for these striking teachers which is why West Virginia government buckled in just 9 days to the demands of their public-sector insurgents.

It will take time even assuming that the Supreme Court outlaws public union’s power to extort money from coerced membership, for the culture to change. Many of these striking employees don’t see themselves as radical insurgents, but as a culture they behave that way because teachers as a profession have been molded as progressive instructors so they don’t see any reason not to use children as bargaining chips for their own gains. That means that the profession of teaching needs to change into something else while these old relics are phased out and new, fresh thoughts can be introduced. States are going to have to prepare for massive walk offs from the teaching profession by these trained radicals. The West Virginia teachers knew that the vacancies for new teachers were low so what did they have to lose in walking off the job? Nothing. There just aren’t enough potential employees to threaten their employment with.

The way to break a strike is to replace the workers striking with new employees. When those employee positions are all getting their money from the same source—the tax payer—it gives them leverage for a walk off. The way to beat that is to decentralize those efforts into a more privatized endeavor. There should always be a certain percentage of non-union employees in schools ready to take over if the unionized teachers walk off the job to protest some turtle crossing—the business of teaching should never stop. And we do live in an age where teachers could be replaced by machines. And automated teaching system should be utilized in case a physical teacher isn’t in the classroom. If teachers refuse to work, then something like Amazon’s Echo or Google’s Home should be put into each classroom to replace those teachers while the non-union staff of administrators ensure that business as usual continues.

In a lot of ways, I think Amazon’s Echo is far superior to an average teacher in the classroom. Some teachers are exceptional, and I think those are people who wouldn’t chose to be protesting at a statehouse for higher wages anyway—they are probably worth whatever money we pay them. But for some slug like many of those teachers protesting in West Virginia I would encourage those school districts suffering to replace them with their own Alexa. If you know anything about those systems they are much better than a real teacher, and far cheaper. They can answer questions, provide scheduled assignments and collect information. They can even provide lectures for topics that are needed. If public schools utilized this technology better they wouldn’t be in such bad positions to waiting for teachers to fill their needed positions. With the economy producing such low unemployment anyway, the traditional way of staffing so many positions with live people really isn’t practical, especially if they are only going to go on strike anyway knowing that there isn’t a deep bench to replace them if they decide to walk off the job for 9 days demanding a pay increase. The great thing about Alexa is that it doesn’t have legs and will never run out of energy. It doesn’t take coffer breaks or bitch about their pay. They don’t eat and smell like coffee and decaying teeth when you ask them a question. In a lot of ways, I think they should be the future of teaching.

Since the teaching profession is changing anyway—as the Supreme Court will eventually mandate, we might as well come up with a plan to deal with the really good problems that we are facing. If there is a teacher shortage and the ones we do have want too much money and expect these extravagant insurance plans, let’s just use Alexa to teach classrooms. We don’t have to pay them insurance, heck, they don’t ever get sick and they do essentially the same thing. So what are we waiting for?

Rich Hoffman
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