Sunday, March 27, 2011

On EDUSolidarity

Throughout the day of March 22, 2011, teachers and our allies shared posts entitled “Why Teachers Like Us Support Unions”. For those of you shared, thank you for doing so.
from website

Stephen Lazar (Outside the Cave), one of the organizers of EDUSolidarity, has posted a list of all those who responded with blog posts supporting unions. It is a powerful list, and many of the teachers share wonderful ideas. I hope, eventually, to get through the whole list.

I am a member of the Bloomfield Education Association, the NJ Education Association, and (I suspect) a member of the NEA. I grew up in an Oirish-American home, with strong union ties. I proudly wore my Joe Hill t-shirt (union made here in America) for years until it fell apart. Heck, I can even sing "Look for the Union Label" without irony or cynicism.

I am not, however, on the list.

Here are a few of my reasons for my silence:

*We are taking the narrow view of a much, much larger issue.
Yes, our local unions are an essential piece of a well functioning public school system, as they are an essential piece of a well functioning republic whose citizens (for the most part) no longer own enough land to support themselves.

I get that we that we bust our asses, that we deserve a living wage, and that we need protections in the workplace. We all do. By speaking to our specialness, we are isolating ourselves from the families that support us, families in a world of hurt here in New Jersey.

The last two decades has seen an incredible shift in assets here--the ultra-wealthy have been siphoning off most of the goods. The tax code has been turned upside down. The working class has been devastated.

We need to tie the recent struggles to the larger picture, the one others have faced for years now. If we keep singling ourselves out as the saviors of democracy, as saints, as deserving something more because we have degrees or because we are serving some higher purpose, we are going to lose.

*We need to get our own houses in order
In our district, we have teachers making $43,000 with no family health benefits their first year. Our top end of the scale made $89,750 with full benefits, well over twice the newest members. The newest members pay the highest percent of their salary to belong to the union, and get the least protection.

There are a lot of good reasons so have differentiated salaries; seniority, by itself, is not one of them. The perception of guaranteed annual raises is killing us. (For the record, Bloomfield teachers took a pay cut across the board this year--but most of my neighbors still think we got our "steps.")

*We need to acknowledge the roles of unions

The cover of NJEA Review, from last September, sickened me. "Kick me"? What kind of message are we trying to send?

It's OK for unions to protect teachers--we need that. It's OK for unions to act in the best interests of its members. That's what unions do.

At times, the interests of a union member may, in fact, conflict with the interests of a child, or the BOE, or the town.  Everyone deserves due process. Everyone.

Our unions have made huge strides improving the school environment. They have improved conditions for children in our schools. We do ourselves a disservice, however, when we pretend that unions exist to improve the lives of children.

A good union is a messy, snarling machine out to protect its workers against the vagaries of those in power.

So, yep, I'm a proud union member and I'm a high school science teacher, but the two are not (and should never be) synonymous. If public schools ever get back to their true purpose, to create an informed, thinking citizenry capable of handling democracy, we'll get our country back.

In the meantime, does anyone have the number to the AFL-CIO...?

The district salary numbers are for 2009-20010, and were taken from the Asbury Park Press. All of us are making 1.5% less this year.

Yes, I know, the American Federation of Teachers is a member of the AFL-CIO. The NEA, as far as I know, is not.


Sue VanHattum said...

> If we keep singling ourselves out as the saviors of democracy, as saints, as deserving something more because we have degrees or because we are serving some higher purpose, we are going to lose.

Keep? I don't see us doing that. Can you help me see what you mean?

I think we do want public recognition. K12 teachers work so hard, and dedicate so much, and then don't get anything like the respect they deserve. (I'm not k12, I teach college. I think I work less and get more respect, but they'll attack us next.)

>For the record...

We took a 7% pay cut a few years back. We thought there were better solutions (fewer administrators), but weren't strong enough to change this.

doyle said...

Dear Sue,

I'll snoop around the net to find examples of teachers seeing ourselves as deserving more by virtue of our education.

I went to college to learn more about the world, and was privileged to be able to do so. I never saw it as an investment in higher future salaries.

Yes, we work so hard, and yes, we dedicate so much, but so does anyone trying to make an honest dollar. My time is not worth any more, or less, than my neighbor's.

We are facing an attack against our class as wage earners. This is bigger than just us.

I think unions are critical--I am not so naive as to underestimate the motives of those above us siphoning dollars from critical public institutions.

Stephen Lazar said...

Obviously, I don't agree with a lot of what you wrote here, but I do appreciate the argument and the way you put it out there. There are a lot of writers who could learn a lot from this.

doyle said...

Dear Stephen,

Fair enough, but I'd be much obliged if you'd be kind enough to point out specifics.

I worked on the docks a long time ago, I worked as a tech in a booze factory, I've worked in hospitals, shelters, and clinics. There's a common theme--just about everybody I've worked with works hard, very hard.

And that's OK.

So long as we get paid for it. No matter what education we have coming in.