Why Support Unions?

With all the politicking against collective bargaining in states like Wisconson and Ohio, it feels like another page from the Republican playbook.  Using “budgeting” as cover, they covertly strip low- and middle-income people of the rights they already earned.  One has nothing to do with the other, especially when the unions are making the financial concessions the Republican governers are asking for.  But the governernors don’t actually want the money.  They want you (us) to lose the right to bargain, to debate, to have a dialog where everyone’s needs are represented.  I was trying to ignore this media story arc, but last night a story from a friend brought it front and center.

At the yoga studio I frequent, they offer something called the Karma Desk.  You run the desk in exchange for free classes.  I did this a couple of times, where I met Kate, another Karma Desk volunteeer.  Kate is a high school English teacher in a rough school in New Jersey.  Drugs, gangs and teenage pregnancy are rampant in her school.  Not an easy place to teach Shakespeare.  But Kate is tough-talking, funny and worked hard to gain her students’ respect.

After years of teaching there, this week Kate was supposed to achieve tenure.  But last week, the head administrator at her school decided that she’d conduct Jess’s annual performance review ahead of schedule.  Kate was worried something was up; that the administrator was moving up her review in order to fire Kate before she’d reach tenure.  Turns out, Kate’s suspicions had were right on.  The administrator gave her a bogus review and tried to squeeze in firing her within days of Kate reaching tenure. 

So Kate called her local NJ teacher’s union representative.  The rep instantly dove into investigating the case against her and found that the administrator’s cover-up work was shady.  The union rep promised Kate he’d help her fight this, and the union would pay her legal fees should a lawsuit with the school ensue.  Currently, Kate is awaiting the decision as to whether the school will respond to the union, or whether it’ll go to lawsuit.

If Kate hadn’t belonged to her teacher’s union, she would have been drummed out of her job days before achieving tenure.  This is a young woman who works hard in a rough neighborhood with tough teens no other teachers will touch, let alone educate.  In this way, Kate is like me and many of my friends.  None of us are rich, we work like dogs; many of us in service jobs helping those less fortunate.  Every time we reach a new plateau in our careers, we shouldn’t have to worry about being bounced out on our butts to help a Republican governor save face. 

Again, I’d love to ignore this union business.  But I can’t.  My great aunt, mother- and brother-in-law are all teachers.  My father was a teacher.  I went to grad school for teaching.  It’s one of the hardest jobs out there, and they are underpaid.  Now Republicans want to strip them of the only benefit protecting them – their collective bargaining power.  Granted, unions have their problems, but there are more courageous ways to balance state budgets than to pick on teachers (most of whom are women) and other state employees.  The fight for unionization in this country was long and hard, and it would be a crushing blow if collective bargaining was just wiped away like it never existed.


7 Comments on “Why Support Unions?”

  1. Rebecca says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. Just because we aren’t in a union doesn’t mean it’s not about us- Enjoy your weekend? Unions. Enjoy competitive salaries? Unions. And there are many other reasons- but simply put, collective bargaining power is a good thing.

    • Thanks for giving this union issue your attention Rebecca. I totally agree – we all enjoy many benefits that unions have fought for and won. Also, unions are a means of ensuring equality in the workplace by protecting womens’ rights, ensuring safety for physical laborers, etc. Can’t believe what politics has come to, that unions are at risk of being wiped out.

  2. Thanks so much for posting this! I was a union member and organizer when I was in graduate school, and the union is what got me paid when the payroll system malfunctioned and the school thought not paying us was a good option, it’s what got me and my fellow grads health insurance, it’s what helped a friend when said insurance tried to deny her pregnancy coverage as a preexisting condition, and much, much more. We need more solidarity and collective bargaining, not less!

    • Anna – thanks for your comment. The more the media harps on this story arc, the more I learn how much we all owe to unions. Pregnancy as a preexisting condition is new to me! Trust the insurance companies to try anything. Thank goodness for unions, especially for women!

      • Oh, I know! Yeah, the pregnancy thing is dirty, but it for sure happens. Great point about women, too; unions have played an instrumental role in advancing and securing women’s rights in the workplace. And in places where there aren’t unions, it can be very difficult for women to report sexual harassment and sexual assault. After all, if the only person you have to report to is your supervisor (who may even be the perpetrator in some cases) and a union doesn’t have your back, you’re faced with the double-edged sword of either sticking it out in silence or potentially getting fired. Of course, that doesn’t mean that will definitely happen if there isn’t a union, but it’s certainly easier to make a decision about bringing these situations to light knowing you have rights ensured and upheld by a union.

        Thanks again for sparking this conversation!

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Yoga Pradana Karra, vogueyogini. vogueyogini said: RT @yogasavestheday Why Support Unions? : http://t.co/fhSTQVF […]

  4. Carol says:

    Reading your post reminded me that we are about to mark the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in which 146 workers — mostly female — perished. This tragedy eventually sparked reforms in fire safety and labor practices. See NY Times link:

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