Why Support Unions?Posted: February 23, 2011
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.