New York City paying 700 teachers to not teach

When an employee performs poorly in the workplace, normally employers let them go and find better replacements, or sometimes just reduce headcount and save costs to keep prices low.  When a union gets involved, and especially when the employer is the government, the dynamic changes — dramatically.  New York City’s public school system provides perhaps the most extreme example … or at least we hope so:

Hundreds of New York City public school teachers accused of offenses ranging from insubordination to sexual misconduct are being paid their full salaries to sit around all day playing Scrabble, surfing the Internet or just staring at the wall, if that’s what they want to do.

Because their union contract makes it extremely difficult to fire them, the teachers have been banished by the school system to its “rubber rooms” — off-campus office space where they wait months, even years, for their disciplinary hearings.

The 700 or so teachers can practice yoga, work on their novels, paint portraits of their colleagues — pretty much anything but school work. They have summer vacation just like their classroom colleagues and enjoy weekends and holidays through the school year.

With that much adult supervision in place, one would assume that the rubber rooms would be models of decorum.  Instead, they sound like middle school:

“You just basically sit there for eight hours,” said Orlando Ramos, who spent seven months in a rubber room, officially known as a temporary reassignment center, in 2004-05. “I saw several near-fights. `This is my seat.’ `I’ve been sitting here for six months.’ That sort of thing.”

Mom, make him stop touching me!  Don’t cross that line!  Hey, I said “exies no erasies!”

If ever one wanted an argument against Card Check, this would be it.  Imagine if you will an entire private sector with “rubber rooms” filled with employees left dangling in limbo because their union contracts made them “extremely difficult to fire.”  There are enough teachers in these rooms in NYC to fill several schools, and yet the taxpayers are shelling out money to have them sit in rooms, play Scrabble, and act like children.

The Big Apple isn’t alone in this process, either.  Los Angeles has almost 200 teachers in rubber rooms at the moment.  Apparently, neither system has the competence nor the inclination to process wrongful conduct or poor-performance hearings with any speed, which is not just unfair to the taxpayers, but also unfair to those teachers wrongfully accused of either or both.

If this was the private sector, it would at least get handled expeditiously, as no business can afford to have hundreds of people sitting around and producing nothing.  Perhaps as well as a cautionary tale about Card Check and the expansion of unions, it also serves as warning to those who want to replace the private sector in health care and energy production with public employees instead.