Union Busting- How Can You
Love Teachers and Hate Their Unions? . . .
We've been hearing the same lines for several years now. The ones where people claim to value and support their public school, where they claim to respect the educators who work with students and that claim unions have ruined our public schools by protecting "bad teachers" and driving education costs up. Few who offer this rhetoric stop to consider the full ramifications of what they are saying. Often they are blindly supporting a politician or political ideology and not really analyzing what their positions really mean.
In a different era these comments and conversations could be responded to and a discussion could be had about them. They could even be ignored and the business of educating our students could continue. Unfortunately, we live in a climate where the anti-union/anti-educator rhetoric has been given power beyond what it merits. The continuing attacks on our public schools have expanded and become a part of our political landscape.
A conservative group has accused Madison school officials of illegally negotiating new contracts with the local teachers union.
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The anti-public education stances that our political leaders have taken have changed the landscape and altered many aspects of public education significantly.
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Even those who speak out in support of public schools often inadvertently "bash" our schools. In an effort to support public education and speak out against the privatization movement we too often portray our public schools as being in crisis and demean the accomplishments of our students and staff. This ends up undermining confidence in our schools and helps fuel the anti-public education spiral that is in place in our state.
With this drastic defunding, Wisconsin's public schools have gotten worse and worse. Programs have been slashed, staff has been cut, and class-sizes are exploding. And if that is not bad enough, state political leaders have vilified our educators, causing a mass exodus of experienced teachers.
Many who support the economic and educational "reforms" do so out of a mistaken sense of justice and equity. They have been told that unions stand for bad policies, protect bad teachers and have acted to protect educators interests over those of students and families. They truly believe that they can support Act 10, support Governor Walker and support "reforms" like vouchers all while still being pro-public education and pro-public educator. They believe the rhetoric that Wisconsin's educator unions have blocked changes that could close achievement gaps and improve educational outcomes for all students. Add to this the volatile political landscape and the intense emotions that the past few years have generated, and these opinions become even more entrenched and solidify into virtually unalterable dogma or "common sense" arguments.
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What these viewpoints ignore is the reality that exists in our state's public schools. They ignore the efforts of educators to support and enhance the educational opportunities that our students need in our modern society. They stereotype educators and are based on flawed logic and faulty arguments. In the end we must make it clear that to attack educator unions is to attack educators themselves.
Educators need unions for a number of reasons. One of the most glaring is the fact that we work in an environment that is incredibly complex and is heavily regulated. There are layers of federal, state and local government that overlap in ways that are often difficult to comprehend, even for veteran administrators and educators. Adding to this legal accountability is the ethical and moral accountability that we have to our students and families. All of these combine to create an environment where educators need the support of a union to help guide them through the legal aspects of our jobs and allow us to focus on the students and families we serve.
It is also important that our educators are protected and supported in other legal ways. There are many safety issues that arise in our schools on a regular basis, and along with these are the many different, and often conflicting, views about handling issues around discipline and pedagogy. Unions serve the role of being the last line of defense for an educator who has tried to do their best, but who has become engaged in a conflict around any of a number of issues that can arise in a school setting. Even in cases where the educator's actions may have been questionable they are entitled to representation, just like any citizen. This is guaranteed in our Constitution. To attempt to remove these rights from the workplace is to forget what makes our nation a special place in the world.
To have these protections means that educators can work, and speak in ways that promote the interests of the students and families we serve. Anti-unionists have focused on the benefits and salaries of educators trying to divide and conquer the citizenry by creating the imagery of wealthy teachers living off the labor of the taxpayers. While this is such an obvious fallacy that it may seem laughable, the fact is that the rhetoric has impacted the way that some see public educators (and public employees in general as well).
This emphasis on the economic impacts that unions have ignores the fact that the employment protections that unions provide may be one of the most important public protections that we have as a society. Having collective bargaining agreements, grievance procedures and Just Cause protections allow educators (and once again all public servants) to speak out against inequities and injustices that are a part of our educational landscape. Without these protections, employees in a school are virtually powerless to stand against the tide of "reforms" that too often are even more discriminatory and inequitable than the current system. Handbooks and At-Will Employment silence those who would speak out and force employees to weigh their own employment against the needs of their students and families.
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Those who attack educator unions often insult the independence and intelligence of the educators they claim to support. By saying that educator unions are controlled by "big union bosses" and that members are being manipulated into political actions, anti-unionists ignore the fact that unions are democratic institutions. Our leaders are directly accountable to the membership, and need the full support of their members to engage in actions of any type. Here in Madison and across Wisconsin, that means that our resistance to Conservative policies, and our political efforts came from a majority of union members, not from our "bosses."
The anti-union movement hides behind patriotism and masks fear with aggressive attacks that are designed to silence the voices of workers. It also has roots in the economic and political elite's efforts to maintain their control of our social, political and economic environment. In reality, there are few examples of democracy and equity than those found in the labor movement. While there are the inevitable flaws that any human endeavor has to be found in organized labor, at the same time, the potential for a more socially just society must be recognized in the movements that attempt to increase the power of any groups voice.
It is in these efforts to reclaim the vision that America's founding documents espouse that unions can begin to rebuild their strength, and regain their place as a voice for the common citizen in our societal discussions. Fighting to hold on to what we have and to engage in an economic or political debate using existing structures will be increasingly difficult in the post Act 10 landscape. Instead, unions must change their tactics and move their efforts back to the streets and neighborhoods. There is more common ground to be found between the "everyday taxpayer" and the labor movement than the current extreme Conservative movement would like us to see. It is up to us to find that common ground and to call attention to the similar vision that a majority of citizens, no matter what their demographic categories may be, share.
The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . This November's election is critical for the short term survival of organized labor in Wisconsin. A Walker victory will set the union movement and worker's rights back after decades of slow, hard fought progress. We need to see an effort from labor equal to, or greater than the one that drove the recalls in 2011-12. Remember that the unions in Wisconsin are one of the last lines of defense against a state totally dominated by special interests and big money.
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At the same time we can't forget that this struggle is not just about Scott Walker. He is only a symptom of the problems that threaten our democratic traditions. To make the struggle only about defeating Walker is to miss the bigger picture that exists in our society. Defeating Walker shouldn't be personal, it should be about making Wisconsin a better place for all citizens and restoring a heritage of good government and progressive policies. Overt anger and bitterness will solidify the opposition to our efforts and make moderates (the few who are left in Wisconsin) less likely to really hear our positions.
“We have a score to settle with Scott Walker,” said AFSCME president Lee Saunders.
The Bad . . . While the publicity about the failures of the Walker administration to live up to their promises of economic stability and job creation helps our efforts to unseat him, at the same time these failures have had a negative impact on the citizens of Wisconsin. These kinds of headlines, and this type of failure is bad for all of us.
The public-private economic development agency, put in place when Gov. Scott Walker took office, continues to generate the wrong kind of headlines.
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The Ugly . . . The wider the income gaps become the more difficult it is for us to achieve the vision of a socially just society that fulfills the true promise of our nation's ideals. Liberty and Justice for ALL is virtually impossible to realize when most of the all is struggling to make ends meet, and the few are living in a totally different reality. All of the recent struggles around voting rights, campaign finance and economic policies have their roots in the efforts of the economic elite to preserve their status and power.
A new study from the Federal Reserve finds that the wealthiest 3% of American households control 54.4% of the nation's wealth.
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We need to prepare for November and make sure that everyone has what they need to exercise their right to cast a ballot.
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jsonline.com|By Ernst-Ulrich Franzen for the Journal Sentinel Editorial Board
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