Teachers — Drought, Unions and Agency Fees

Our local papers, the LA Times and the OC Register have had several articles (news, ed and op-ed) about teachers and unions the last couple of days:

  • Orange County’s Teacher Drought — OC Register – 1.9.16
  • High-stakes showdown for union-backed Democrats — OC Register – 1.10.16
  • Mandatory union dues trample First Amendment — OC Register – 1.10.16
  • Interests seek to silence teachers — OC Register – 1.10.16
  • They’re not in the union, but pay anyway — LA Times – 1.11.16
  • Teachers union case goes before the Supreme Court — OC Register – 1.11.16

The above list excludes articles on the LAUSD search for a new superintendent and anything dealing with charter schools.

Bias

Like most people I am biased in my feelings about unions, dues and agency fees — I do not like them, but I believe they are necessary. The individual working man or woman has no power — as an individual. The only way for them to have an impact on an employer is as a member of a group. Call it an association, an organization or a union, the name, except as an emotional button to push, does not matter.

My father was a printer for most of his life; he worked at the LA Examiner and the LA Herald-Examiner. The paper was unionized and the union served to protect the workers. But even a good local union cannot protect against the financial might of a major national corporation. The 1960s strike against the Hearst Corp. destroyed my father’s union.

The last few years before that strike, he had been working a second job as a parimutuel clerk at Southern California race tracks, living out of his pick-up truck/camper in their parking lots five days a week — an eighty-hour-plus work week. When his union was broken, he had just accumulated enough seniority to begin working the tracks full-time, or we’d have been in real financial straits. He supported that union too — I even walked picket lines with him when they went on strike.

History

Historically, the individual worker, be he free or slave, has never had any power. Accept what is offered or move on. A boss, be he (or she) an individual, an organization or a government will always try to get the most for the least. Anything else is seen to go against their own economic self-interest.

Organizations of workers, farmers and slaves who have sought to re-dress their grievances have been put down by private guard forces and government troops. It happened in ancient Rome, medieval Europe and in nineteenth and twentieth century America.

Those who have to deal with unions (as opponents) detest them, or grudgingly accept their presence and would prefer to deal with individual workers rather than a group of them.

Have you ever told your child, “No, or “Because I said so,” when asked a question? Can you imagine your boss’s response to questions involving hours, salary, health benefits and time off without a contract or labor laws?

Employers and corporations, and their associations do not exist to benefit the worker.

Teachers and Unions

Our teachers are intelligent, hard-working and well-educated. Yet, no matter how intelligent, how hard-working or how well-educated an individual teacher is, he or she is still a single worker, on a par with a janitor or clerk, as far as a school district employer is concerned.

Many Orange County school districts employ more than a thousand teachers. Imagine you are an individual teacher working for a district without a teachers’ union or union contract. Imagine negotiating your own individual contract, salary schedule, work load, etc. Imagine enforcing that individual contract should your employer do something you believe is not in accordance with what you thought you negotiated. Who has the final say, you or the district?

Are you prepared to go to court as an individual against an employer of thousands or, maybe, just quit your job?

Teachers, and other workers, need unions to protect their interests. An individual worker, no matter how intelligent, hard-working or well-educated, has little or no power to bring pressure on an employer, especially an employer of thousands.

Are you a teacher? Think of life without a union contract:

  • Five new students are added to your second period English class — it now stands at forty-three and is the smallest of your six classes. “But when you hired me, you said none of my class would have more than thirty students.”
  • Remedial classes are needed on Saturday — you’re selected to teach two of them.
  • Parents complain that you grade too harshly and are not “fair” to their children.
  • You have a disagreement with the principal and she, or he, terminates you.
  • You want a raise.

Nature

“Nature,” taken as a whole, does not care about the individual. An ant, a bee, a gnu, a person means nothing. Colonies, hives, herds and species do matter. An individual clerk at Target or Wal-Mart means “nothing” to the corporation (despite their lip-service to the worker’s rights and value) as long as the work gets done and the profits roll in.

An individual janitor, clerk or teacher means nothing to a large school district as long as the classrooms get cleaned, documents are filed and children taught.

Contracts, Dues and Agency Fees

A contract is an enforceable legal document. It is not enforceable by an employee as an individual. It takes, unfortunately perhaps, legal experts, lawyers, judges, hearings and trials. Individuals and organizations, both those for and against you, must be paid. If your organization, union, does not do so, the burden falls to you alone.

Union dues and agency fees pay for these services. If no one pays for these services, these services do not exist.

Can you as an individual afford the time and money to both negotiate and enforce a contract with your employer — your school district? Think about it.

If you believe yourself to be an exception, that you shouldn’t have to pay an agency fee to your union, do you also believe that the union should not have to enforce its contract with the school district in regards to you? If the union has to enforce the contract in regards to you without your dues or agency fee, that means that other school district employees, the other teachers at your school (your friends and colleagues?), and at the other district schools, are carrying you on their backs and paying for your representation — you’re accepting their charity.

Think about labor laws, OSHA, the five-day work week, the eight-hour day. Do you believe they arose out of the goodness of the government’s heart, or perhaps, those of the robber-barons and mega-corporations? No, they came out of the political pressure exerted by workers and their unions and were financed by the dues of union members.

Right-to-Work

What about my rights to only belong to groups, associations, that I desire. Why should I be forced to join a union? I don’t believe in them.

Do you really believe this to be to your advantage? Think about things realistically.

It is to the advantage of bosses, employers and owners to belong to voluntary associations to further their ambitions. What are their ambitions? To keep and enhance their discretionary power over employees and customers and to increase their profits. They do this through their “contributions” to advertising budgets and politicians.

Advertising to convince you that they have your best interests at heart. Do you believe that the health care industry really cares for you? Have you had to deal with them as an individual? Contest a charge? Get an expensive, non-covered prescription? An out-of-network doctor? Five, ten or fifteen percent increases in coverage costs year after year?

They are profit driven like every other corporation.

But, they’re supposed to be non-profit. Yeah, have you seen the salaries and perks of those who run them?

All of these organizations, corporations and associations hire lobbyists and contribute to politicians. Do you think they do so to further the interests of their workers and customers? No, they do it to increase their power and profits.

An individual worker cannot do this by himself or herself. Workers need to band together to accumulate the money and voting power to contest the economic and political power of those currently in control. They aren’t going to help you because you are a good person and deserve it — that would cut into their profits, and do you really believe that is going to happen?

A “right-to-work” state is one in which an individual is free to deal with government entities and corporations as an individual and not as a group.

A “right-to-work” law is one which guarantees that government entities and corporations do not have to deal with workers as powerful groups but as nearly powerless individuals.

Belief in “right-to-work” laws and their attendant advertising (propaganda?) merely cements the control of mega-corporations and the ultra-rich over the government and, hence, the individual.

Individuals, working as individuals, are never going to be able to accumulate the money necessary to contest in the political arena with the rich and the corporations.

To believe otherwise is to confess to a naiveté that is simultaneously based in fantasy and ultimately suicidal — in both an economic and a political sense.

Conclusion

No, you are not going to agree with everything your union does. (I certainly didn’t.) Your union is not, and will not, be perfect — no organization composed of fallible types like us human beings ever will be.

But, remember this, the union is not some far off entity that exists outside of you — you are the union. The more you participate, the more the union reflects you and what you believe. Get involved. Use the dues and agency fees your union collects to enforce your contract and pursue the kind of life you want for yourself, your family and your students.


PS: I was going to concentrate on the “Teacher Drought” article. Ah, well, maybe next time.

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