A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Come on and take a free ride; Come on and take it by my side!

(Deep breath.) I must speak.

It's that time of year when many teachers' bargaining units and school district suits are engaged in a cagematch regarding next year's compensation for the teaching staff. In most parts of the country, we are seeing belt tightening, school districts crying penury, teachers trying to maintain decent health insurance, and the like. I keep hearing about the growing economy, but somehow it never trickles down to the working schmoes, especially those who, as Sir Elton would sing, "farmed in schools that were so worn and torn."

So the salary schedule for next year has been released. To cut to the chase: some of us are getting a raise next year, and some of us are not. But what ripped it for me was listening to a bunch of guys who are not members of our professional organization do nothing but yelp in the hallways over the proposed contract. Their angry and even petulant comments ran along the lines of this actual quote: "Look what the wonderful union did for us!" and swirled around that theme for a week now and counting.

I fully support anyone who doesn't want to join a teacher's professional organization. But since the gripers do not belong to the organization, how can they complain about what it did or did not do for them? I belong to my professional organization simply because I believe teachers need bargaining power. I do not agree with the national organization on several political points, nor do I agree with them on many professional issues. But if I leave, who will speak out against some of these positions I find ignorant, ridiculous, or just plain wrong? Our local organization is very moderate politically because like-minded people such as myself keep on pushing for that moderation.

Negotiation has won us the benefits we all enjoy-- some of us enjoy these benefits for free. Bargaining is the prime thing unions and professional organizations should do-- and yes, it would be great if the national honchos would stick to that without alienating a lot of my colleagues (and often, me) with their activities that have only a tenuous connection to the concerns of education. I have shared with you before about how I would probably be lacking a college education, much less graduate degrees, if it had not been for union-negotiated wages my daddy earned even though he was a high school drop-out.

Unions are all that have kept working people and even professional people like teachers from being treated as serfs. Don't believe me? Go back through history and look at some of the compensation and working conditions which were the norm when our parents or grandparents' generations taught. One of the most astoundingly ironic political magic tricks of the 20th century has been the bewitching of employees to believe that they don't need a bargaining unit.

Unions and professional organizations would be more powerful if they would stay focused on that task. Undoubtedly true.

Don't join the teachers' organization if you want. But then don't wonder at why our bargaining power is reduced. Consider the dues money you so smugly and cleverly "saved" to be your raise. Some of these kvetchers are proponents of the philosophy of "Vote or shut up," and they sat on their thumbs this election. The school district can count heads. Sit out the battle if you want, chicken-hawks.

But don't complain to me about that which you have not expended any treasure to receive, sirrah. I am an officer in our professional organization, and I am still working for you. For free.

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At 3/7/07, 6:13 PM, Blogger NYC Educator said...

I frequently complain about my union's leadership. But I don't delude myself for a moment that we'd be better off without a union. There was a long comment on my blog the other day maintaining this.

I thought about it for a long time, and found it too stupid to even respond. I agree with every word you wrote. And I don't believe in that "Right to Work" nonsense either.

Everyone benefits, and everyone should contribute.

At 3/7/07, 11:55 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

I actually did ask one of these guys: "So you're telling me you'd really like there to be no teachers' organization to negotiate your working conditions and salary?? I guess you think you could do better all by your lonesome, hmmm?"

He didn't have the guts to say yes or no.

At 3/8/07, 8:55 AM, Blogger Dr. Homeslice said...

Great post!!!!!!!!!

At 3/8/07, 5:37 PM, Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

I tend to agree with you on this one - I'm a member of my local despite the fact that I really disagree with a lot of the silliness that the national union wastes time on. However, my father, an airline industry employee, also stressed to me the importance of collective barginning, and I learned that from his knee. I figure I can do more good changing (and moderately) the union from the inside than I can standing outside and whining about it.

At 3/8/07, 6:26 PM, Blogger NYC Educator said...

American history suggests that working people always do better in unions, and the decline since the 80s has been disastrous for working people. President Bush didn't threaten to veto the card-check bill because he wants to ensure a vibrant middle class.

At 3/11/07, 3:29 PM, Blogger Dan Edwards said...

NYC Educator, et. al.

There you said it, "working people". Teachers are "working people"....not professionals. We are "tradesmen/women" with a unique, marketable skill. We are not professionals such as lawyers, doctors, engineers, and accountants.

We teachers provide a service just like plumbers, firefighters, police officers, correctional officers, waitresses etc. We are called upon to educate.

We are "working people" and as such, until we are regarded and valued by society as being "PROFESSIONALS", we will have to be union in order to protect ourselves from those "professionals" with LLD or Phd-ED tacked onto their names.

At 3/14/07, 8:25 PM, Blogger QuakerDave said...

Great post.

Solidarity forever.


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