Unions and the modern workforce: In Focus

Teachers,
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NEW YORK - Slurs once saved for bankers or billionaires are now aimed at union workers - particularly teachers.

"In bad times our jobs look pretty good," said Maryann Woods-Murphy. "So I think that's what we're really experiencing - the public is suffering.

Woods-Murphy would know. She's a teacher, and more than half of her family members are educators.

CBS News correspondent Seth Doane reports in the recession's wake - unionized teachers like Woods-Murphy are now in the midst of a raging debate.

Republican governors in ten states (Ohio, Nevada, Tennessee, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Wisconsin) are taking aim at wages and retirement benefits to help balance their budgets.

"As you all watch the news in Wisconsin, in Ohio, these protests, these demonstrations, and efforts to chip away a bit at the union's strength, what goes through your mind," Doane asked.

"I'm very worried," she said. "And I'm appalled actually."

"Appalled at what?"

"At the way teachers are being demeaned and vilified."

That's quite a change for a woman who is used to being honored. As a 32-year veteran and New Jersey "Teacher of the Year," Woods-Murphy knows with education a top budget expense - teachers, like some in her own family, are open targets.

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Some in her family are in unions - and some are not. That sparks dynamic dinner-time discussion.

"Folks are saying, shouldn't there be some sort of shared sacrifice here? You're talking about benefits - you're talking about wage increases. It seems out of touch," Doane asked.

"You know, I do think we need to share the sacrifice," Woods-Murphy said. "And it is happening but not in such a top-down way."

At the top is her governor,Chris Christie- who this week said teachers should get into step with the private sector and pay 30 percent of their own health care costs. That's up from the minimum 1.5 percent they pay now. If Gov. Christie gets his way, they'll also contribute more to their pension plans.

If those proposalsare put into effect, a New Jersey teacher with a family of four would spend an extra $7,000 - effectively a 15 percent pay cut for the average public school teacher who makes $66,000 a year.

But the big question already on the table in Wisconsin and Ohio is whether unions will lose their ability to negotiate for benefits as a group - something called collective bargaining.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, says this is more about busting unions than balancing budgets. "This is not about a budget crisis. This about taking away rights to come together to bargain for a middle-class way of life. This is about defending the middle class."

Union membership peaked in the 1950s when one in four Americans joined a union. Now it's just over one in ten.

Unions are credited with establishing a 40 hour work week, overtime pay, and safety laws to improve working conditions.

But they've also come under fire for being out of step with the modern workforce.

"The issue, for critics of public sector unions, is that these produce or end up producing not only fiscal burdens on the state but also all kinds of rigid inefficiencies through the way they negotiate work rules and the conditions of employment," Daniel DiSalvo said.

Maryann's son-in-law Billy Bowie is a principal at a non-union charter school. He said being able to deal with teachers directly makes the school more efficient.

"I do believe unions do, they make it a little less flexible, it's true," he said.

Maryann's husband - Joseph Murphy - is a teacher at a nearby private school. While he's not in a union, he relies on his wife's far better healthcare benefits.

"In terms of dollars and cents she fares much better than I do," he said. "I'm making a good salary - but not as good as Maryann."

The next generation of teachers - like Maryann's 27-year-old daughter Melynda Bowie, worries the profession won't offer the same security it did for her parents - or the same degree of pride, either.

"If I'm wearing my union shirt, I sometimes will zip up my jacket," Melynda said. "Because I don't want to get into the conversation - 'Oh, you're a teacher-- why won't you give back? We're in a financial crisis. You're greedy.'"

Harsh words for those who've spent a lifetime giving.