Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Till Your Well Runs Dry

I'm in McAllen, Texas right now with AFT. We've been meeting some local union leaders here, and I've been hearing things that kind of blow my mind. I should've known these things before. I have a friend from Florida who described working conditions there, and they're quite similar here. The reason they have things like one year renewable contracts is they don't do that whole collective bargaining thing. We pay you what we want, and if you don't like it, go screw yourself.

Collective bargaining is a cornerstone of what union does where we come from. Whatever you may think about the most recent contract, or those that preceded them, at least they're contracts. Without them, your negotiating stances are sorely limited. There are always things you can do. For example, several red states went out on strikes recently. With conditions like those, it's pretty easy to understand why.

There are some highly unattractive disadvantages to this system. As in Florida, tenure is doled out in contracts that last somewhere between one and five years. Should they fire you just because they feel like it while your contract is in force, the union can help you. However, whenever your tenure, or contract, or whatever you want to call it is up, they can simply choose not to renew. That's one way to discourage activism. On the other hand, turnover can be massive in places with these systems. It all depends one whether or not your local Board of Ed. gives a crap about educational quality.

There are other drawbacks to this system as well. For example, say you start on a contract and beginning pay is 30K a year. Let's say the board votes to give all teachers an across the board raise of $760. So year two, you make 30,760. Each year you made an extra $760. Let's say five years later, starting pay goes up to 40K. This means that a new teacher makes more than you do. I suppose you could quit and hope they'd hire you back. On the other hand, once you come back they could give you credit for time served and therefore award you a lower salary.

Sometimes there are consultations. The board will decide that they will make agreements under consultation. They will pay you this much. They will give you this benefit. They will agree to A, B, and C. What if they determine the next day they don't want to follow through with this? Too bad for you. The agreement isn't worth the ink on the contract it isn't written on.

Union? I've met a whole bunch of people from AFT locals, and from what I see and hear, these folks are the real thing, working hard to do their best for their members. But here's the thing--without contracts, there may be one union, or there may be five. Maybe your friend Bob decides to start Bob's union, for the betterment of Bob. That won't likely draw many people beyond Bob.

On the other hand, Bob could charge less in dues than the local AFT. Sure, Bob doesn't actually do any work, but membership is free to Bob. And when AFT actually accomplishes something, Bob can certainly walk around and boast that all benefits are due to his diligence. Now I have not actually heard about anyone named Bob doing that. What I have heard about is organizations that are "professional" and don't want to get all dirty asking for money. Instead, they'll, I don't know, sit around and wear ties all day. So they look good, but a gorgeous silk tie will not always impress your landlord sufficiently that he won't move all your stuff to the curb.

One thing that a whole lot of teachers may find familiar is the old bait and switch--We'll give you a $5,000 raise, but we'll also raise your health premium by $5,000.  It's a WIN-WIN! Of course it's no such thing. It's you funding your own raise and they pay you the same.

There are several ways to fight back. You can use social media. Maybe a better solution I've heard is to try to run for office. Find people who actually give a crap about education and have them run for school board.

Maybe an even better solution is to raise public awareness. Once you do that, you can elect politicians who, you know, actually care about working people. Unfortunately, such work is not exclusively the province of Texas. Does anyone think Andrew Cuomo wouldn't come to our homes and place stakes through our hearts if he thought it would win him public support?

More to the point, while Texas and other states move to better their lots, we have to do the same for ourselves. Make no doubt about it, those people who just passed Janus would like nothing better than to impose every crazy Texas rule on the entirety of these United States. That's bad for us, it's bad for our children, and it's bad for all the students we serve.

We all need to appreciate what we have, understand its fragility, and work to move things forward.
blog comments powered by Disqus