When I received my first public school paycheck over two decades ago, I looked it over carefully. Noticing that a large chunk of change went to my union, I asked around and found out that being in the union was optional. So I called the union office to see about "unjoining." Although happy to help, they also mentioned that, should I decide to opt out, I would instead be coughing up roughly the same amount for an "agency fee," paid to the union as compensation for reaping the benefits of the union's collective bargaining agreement.
I complained to my father, hoping for some sympathy. As a city manager, he had spent a career across the table from the police and fire fighter unions and it wasn't always fun. But instead of sympathy, he sat me down for a quick history of the organized labor movement in this country. Then he told me I was lucky to be in a union, and if I had any problems with it, I should get involved and make it better.
So I did. I can't say I've made the union "better," but after many years in many different roles I certainly have more respect for the union that represents us.
I also worry about it. This has been a tough year for all of us, and the teachers' association has taken a lot of criticism.
First of all, teachers are angry about the budget recently signed by our governor. A governor that many feel would not have been elected without the support of the teachers' union. The budget stinks. Everyone will feel pain, especially those who depend on the state for health care, education, or a job. Teachers were hoping that their support would have resulted in a better return from the budget. Perhaps it did. Perhaps it might have been much worse. I wonder what we would be dealing with had Dino Rossi won the election.
Teachers are also upset about how the RiFs are being doled out. Many young, talented teachers are being let go while their older, burned-out colleagues remain. Or so it's been reported. While there are always exceptions, my experience has been that teachers do, in fact, improve over time. Experienced teachers are generally better than rookies. Besides, the union has absolutely no control over who gets riffed at this point. Each district has a collective bargaining agreement that spells it all out in black and white, and the union is charged with the task of making sure that the district follows that agreement, whether they like the result or not.
And then there's the third thing that's bugging teachers. The WEA ended up endorsing Randy Dorn. Most of us don't really know too much about him yet, but those who have had interactions with him are, well, unimpressed. Personally, I'm going to withhold judgment until I have more on which to base that judgment. I'd like to see how his "new and improved" testing scheme plays out, for example. I'd also like to hear how he plans to implement the new law, recently signed by the governor, that redefines basic education in this state. I had a lot of respect for his predecessor, I was sorry to see her lose, but I want to give him a chance.
So that's what I'm hearing from my fellow teachers. They aren't too high on the Association right now.
And I really only have one response. It comes right straight from my father, the smartest man I've ever met. Be glad you have a union, and if you have a problem with it, get involved and make it better. Believe me, there is no better time than right now for teachers in this state to pursue leadership positions in the WEA.