Retired teacher speaks out about opting out of union
An open letter to all teachers who have opted out of your union:
If you have opted out of the union, and if I knew you personally, I would most likely respect you as an educator, but I want to share my take on this situation. I don’t know what your reasons for your actions are, and don’t expect that you need to share them with me. But I do know that many of you feel you just can’t afford the dues. Or perhaps you feel the union doesn’t do anything for you anyway. Maybe you feel unions have outgrown their usefulness.
Suffice it to say this long-standing, well-funded, and very carefully orchestrated attack on organized labor is not something I didn’t see coming. I have been watching it evolve since President Reagan busted the Air Traffic Controllers Union (PATCO) in 1981. When organized labor allowed that to happen, the writing was on the wall. And the attack has been predicated on you feeling one or all of the above to be true.
Here’s my take:
We need the union now more than ever.
This isn’t about me and not about most of you. It is about the new teachers in your buildings; it’s about the future. It’s about all of those gifted and talented students you teach who dream of becoming a teacher one day. It’s about their expectation that they will be able to raise a family and own their own home. It’s about what I and most retired teachers enjoy. That is not what those new teachers in your building will have to look forward to now in the later stages of their careers and after they retire.
Unions protect workers. Your working conditions are your students’ learning conditions.
It is about those future teachers who may not agree with how things are being run and the protection they will lose. I and many like me were the kind of teachers not prone to shrinking from a fight to do what was right for our students, even though it might have been in direct violation of misguided board of education policy or an arbitrary and capricious legislative fiat. That freedom of speech in the workplace was afforded to you by the protection we gained being able to collectively bargain a safe and orderly environment for those students. Our rights in our work environment were never given to us; rather they were won by organized hard work as members of a union.
Teaching was, and is, again becoming, a “second income profession.”
I was raised in a time when the teaching profession was not one that afforded educators the security to raise a family and own their own home. My aunt was a third grade teacher and her salary was what paid for the two-week vacation to Lake Charlevoix each year — that’s it! Luckily she was married to a unionized postal employee.
After WWII, and with the advent of the GI Bill of Rights, many young men returning from military service took advantage of the GI Bill to attend college. Several of my high school teachers and counselors were from that group. Prior to the unionization of the teaching profession, special mortgage programs had to be set up for those teachers so they could afford to buy a home. Conversely, my father worked in an auto factory, and was able to enter the housing market, raise six kids and go on a vacation every summer. The difference between teachers and factory workers was that auto workers literally put their lives on the line to obtain a living wage and some basic benefits. Teachers had to make a decision to fight for what they knew they deserved in order to bring the teaching profession into the middle class. And every one of us is in their debt for those sacrifices.
The pendulum is quickly swinging back to a time when teachers now qualify for food stamps. This will drive the best and the brightest from even considering entering the field in the first place. It is driving the best and brightest in your buildings to create a “Plan B” for their future which does not include being an educator. You may be one of them.
Think about the future of your profession.
I don’t expect this message to change the decision you have made. But I sincerely hope it will cause you to deeply think about the future of your profession. Working people have never realized improvement in their station in life through the kindness of their employer. And in the near future, when there are no restraints on the power of school boards and school administrations, they will continue to act from their natural predilection or because of bullying by their misguided Legislature, to strip you of more of your hard-won rights.
The end of unions is the end of public education!
I may be wrong about you, but I don’t think this is a scenario you envision as being good for the future of your students, your profession, your state or your country.
Traverse City Area Public Schools
(Editor’s note: The Herald received permission from Mr. Cullen to reprint his letter which was originally posted on the Michigan Education Association (MEA) website to provide a counter-point to a recent editorial from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy published in this newspaper.)