Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The thing about unions......

I was browsing Right on the Left Coast (check the blogroll) and I found an article about teacher unions from a blog called Edspresso (which I occasionally visit). The question was simple, "Are teacher's unions anti-teacher?".

This is such an interesting and touchy subject. I'm a site rep for my local union. I'm also a person that wants to see education run in an efficient and logical manner. Some might see my opinion as waffling, since I think the teacher's union is necessary, but I also see it as somewhat corrupt. Why is it necessary? Well, until the administration is totally competent, and I mean all the way up to the Super, unions are necessary. I've been lucky to have very supportive admins for the vast majority of my career (including currently). However, without the districts protecting the teachers becomes a priority, the union must remain. Stories abound where teachers are left to dry when parents get out of control and go after a teacher's job. My legal protection rides with the union, not the district.

The problem is that nearly everything else regarding the union is suspect at best. We are forced to pay fees that often go to causes we want nothing to do with. Our union sent thousands to the Hayward Teachers Association last year when they went on strike, without the permission of members. Oh, it's in the bylaws. And when the "Executive Committee" (the head honchos of the local union) wants to raise fees, they just do it. During the last meeting of the year, I requested that a fee increase go out to vote and that a complete list of expenditures of the union be produced. I was denied both. I actually kind of flipped out on whole group, questioning their real motive in their positions. Then we get into the idea of merit pay, actually, any kind of merit pay. When I broached the subject as something that was legitimate and that would be placed on top of the regular salary, our union went nuts. No real reason was given into why it was bad, just that it is anti-union to like merit pay. Of course, good teachers might disagree. Finally, I couldn't bear to watch the union make a big deal out of the teacher lay-off notices this year. Yeah, you are right, good teachers were getting laid off.........something that could be totally avoided if the good teachers were kept and the bottom 10% were let go. You know who prevented that? Um, labor agreements.

I really don't know what to do about the current situation locally. I keep trying to tell people at my site that they are getting fairly screwed, but the attitude is pretty much that they have no time to deal with it. It seems as if the cost of actually trying to fight for a well run union isn't worth the benefit of actually having one. Next year promises to be even more contentious, as Ukiah High School, the single largest entity in the district, will have no representation in negotiations. Not that it is entirely the fault of the union that teacher's don't want to put in the time. I can be added to that group.

So I'm at an interesting crossroads. I became involved in the union to bring some sort of reasonable order to it. I have found that it is just not that easy. I fear for the fact that my money is in the hands of people who are not looking out for the best interest of teachers, which makes me want to stick it out. But our representation took a major hit this year when two excellent UHS negotiators resigned. And when I end up leaving union meetings, I feel actually afraid that these people represent me. Best interest is not there, for the teachers, kids, overall health of the district, anything. I'm thinking that the Teacher's Empowerment Network is a possible answer (Right on Left Coast promotes it like crazy), except that the local union still has control over some of my fees and still ends up screwing over good teachers.

Understand, I'm not some flaming anti-communist, anti-union raver with some political agenda. I see value in unions, especially when it comes to protecting and negotiating in the best interest of the profession. But I see serious problems with how my money is spent, and that our profession is not being addressed in the best possible light.

Your thoughts?
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