Rise of “Rubber Rooms”
Economists have long been wary of unions and the distortion their presence imposes on markets. In theory and often in practice, labor unions benefit “insiders” at the expense of those outside the union. Unions are criticized for artificially inflating the wage rate above the market level, thereby reducing a firm or industry’s demand for labor and consequently reducing employment, contributing to dead-weight loss, and increasing prices for consumers.
Knowing this, I have come to generally regard teachers’ unions with some reservations. Then I see this. Apparently, 700 teachers of the New York City Public School system — those who are accused of misconduct and are waiting to appeal their case — are sentenced to communal “rubber rooms” during the workday, where they are free to engage in personal activities unrelated to education and still draw compensation from state coffers:
Because the teachers collect their full salaries of $70,000 or more, the city Department of Education estimates the practice costs the taxpayers $65 million a year. The department blames union rules.
“It is extremely difficult to fire a tenured teacher because of the protections afforded to them in their contract,” spokeswoman Ann Forte said.
City officials said that they make teachers report to a rubber room instead of sending they home because the union contract requires that they be allowed to continue in their jobs in some fashion while their cases are being heard. The contract does not permit them to be given other work.
New York is not the only city with a variation of these rubber rooms; the Los Angeles school district employs similar practices when handling issues with 178 of its teachers.
Regardless of the prevalence of this practice, the image of teachers being given a $65 million subsidy anywhere to play board games is stunning. This is clear evidence of union power run amok — no longer serving the best interests of children, but rather of those protected by the system. To my knowledge, Missouri’s school districts do not suffer from such extensive waste, but we would be wise to be wary of ceding such market power.