Friday, February 18, 2011

I Never Joined a Union

The Union Steward's Complete Guide: A Survival Guide, 2nd Edition  A More Perfect Union: The Story of Our ConstitutionState of the Union Address Restoring the Power of Unions: It Takes a Movement


This is not meant as criticism of unions per se; it is not to critique those who join unions. After all, the objectives of unions include protecting employees' safety and pay for services or products their work provides. 

However, I probably would not consider joining a union today unless working conditions in my workplace were horribly unfair or dangerous to physical or health safety. The unions came into being decades ago in response to gross violations of human dignity and professional work ethics. Federal and state laws now address those concerns. Any protections not addressed have other recourse, in most cases.

My experience with unions began when I was just out of college, newly married, and in my first year of teaching in public schools. I did not join the teacher's union, nor was any pressure put on me to do so (New York state). Yet, my attendance at the state teacher's conference was covered by the school district.

I could have joined a US government employee union years later, when I worked in DC. But I did not. And I felt strongly about not doing so in that case. First, I had no complaints, although I did have aspirations for upgrades, but they came on schedule. Second, the union rep in our building spent way too much time walking around our offices, not his, visiting and trying to enroll new members. When does he work?!, I often wondered.
     I also declined to join my peers in complaints having to do with lacking overtime pay. Although we had profitable per diem pay for out-of-office training weekends where we also honed skills. 
If abuses are present in the workplace, that's another matter. Yet, today, abuse seems to be a convenient label for just about anything uncomfortable or not agreeing with one's own views and preferences.
     Sick leave to help a child or other family member in distress? That's good because it is essential.
     Extended maternity leave? I never knew what that was like, and I handled it, as did my husband who helped me, along with neighbors. Also, family members drove long distances to help. We felt proud, not offended, to pull together at such times. But, not everyone can work these things out.

I realize, too, that not every employer is "reasonable." Those instances do bring in the need for some outside help or resolution, surely. 
     Recent protests in Wisconsin concern me, especially regarding questionable, possibly unethical, behaviors of some (not all, and maybe not many) teachers. For any American teacher of the 21st century not to go to work in order to protest robs students and is shameful. Many of us consider teaching to be a profession, almost a calling, and definitely a privilege. 

I never joined a union, so what I learn I get from what the union leaders say and in many cases these days I just don't buy it...distracting teachers from their professional work and contract obligations. 
     One good that may come from the events in Wisconsin, as teachers and other employees of the state protest budget changes proposed, is that some teachers have shown parents their true colors. Some are bright, and others are...well, dull. If it's "all about the children," it's also about honest and peaceful actions, not dishonest and raucous/rude threats.

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