People are constantly vilifying teacher's unions. Where does this sentiment come from? Are they really that detrimental?


Jill Berkowicz, Educator, Adjunct Professor, Author

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Your question is a deeply complicated one. Unions are, at times, resented or as you say, "vilified"because there is resentment of the quality of their contracts and retirement benefits. Some confuse unions with tenure laws...which guarantee educators academic freedom. In this country, unions have provided the route toward better salaries and fair treatment of workers. Fair pay and fair treatment of employees has become guaranteed through the work of unions. The question is why does that morph into unions being detrimental?

Suzanne Germaine, Lead Art Teacher and Head building Rep/retired

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Having been a union representative for eleven years and the head building rep in my HS for three years prior to retirement, I feel well qualified to respond to this statement. Historically teachers were fired for being the wrong color or religion. Pregnant teachers were physically removed from the classroom while teaching once their pregnancy became visible. This happened in my school district. The woman this happened to filed charges and took it to Albany where the law was changed so this could not happen to other teachers. She went on to become a union president fighting to protect teachers from unfair practices. Without unions this would not have been possible. In a "right to work" state such as Texas or Wisconsin where teachers are not reimbursed for after hours activities such as chaperoning, tutoring, etc. They dare not refuse if they want to keep the job. Are unions there only for the benefit of teachers ? No. Teachers also fight for the rights of students and for the freedom to have a say in education policies. Without the protection of unions they would not feel free to speak up and object when they know from experience what works and what doesn't work Common Core is a good example. Fair salaries and benefits are part of union contracts.

M. Erez Kats, Seattle Language Arts Teacher

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I don't think teacher's unions are vilified. I think if anything, they get a bad rap from time to time because people get offended that teachers would ever want to earn more money, have better benefits, or stand up for the same rights that every other profession automatically gets. At least that is what happened here in Seattle a couple months ago when we went on strike. The media tried to paint a picture as well that all we cared about was money, when in fact, there were dozens of other more prevalent issues on the table that had nothing to do whatsoever with teachers' salaries. So the media is a big part of the more publicized stories. On the whole though, I think people look favorably upon teachers being united, and collaborating to come up with solutions that make sense for an entire district or community at large. Teaching is a largely political career, and so it's important to influence the public in the right way. I think when corruption is taken out of the picture, and you have the right people leading the union, there will always be a more positive than negative outlook towards teachers and their unions.

Vielka Cecilia Hoy, Founder/Director at Vielka Hoy Consulting, Teacher, and Parent

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I have worked in settings with great unions and others with not-so-great unions and no union. I have received amazing raises and benefits, and even supports when I was a new teacher to make sure my teaching improved so that I wouldn't be on anyone's radar. I have also worked in schools with at-will contracts and without union representation; I can't begin to describe the stress in those situations and I don't imagine I did my best work each day due to that stress. So in general, I am very pro-union.

But I have also been in situations where unions have represented the faculty at all costs, without input from the faculty they are representing, and an unwillingness to budge or compromise. This didn't happen quite like this, but an example would be forcing a school to immediately reduce class sizes by one or two students in a district without funds to hire more teachers, meaning classes for English learners and advanced classes would be closed. Teachers stated that they were willing to keep the few students if the district added more teachers in the next year, but the union would not move on that. In those instances, it appears that the unions' purpose is not the stated one; rather something larger and more political that may not be in the best interest of the students and community.

While very biased, another example is from Waiting for Superman and the "dance of the lemons" for tenured teachers in New York. As I mentioned, I have seen where unions step in to help with these issues. But when they do not, it raises questions about their true purpose.

In short, I believe teacher unions would be less vilified if they worked in the interest of teachers, parents, students, and administrators.

Lisa Hiton, Professor of English and Arts, Poet, Filmmaker, Writer

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As someone who has taught in public high schools and as an adjunct at the college level, I have to say, I'm a believer in unions. This country values capitalism. Capitalism, at this point in history, functions in a fascist manner. A teacher's union is considerably socialist by comparison. It democratizes access to benefits, better salaries, working conditions, etc. The reasons unions exist is because no other abiding cause in the field serves the social labor that is teaching. Particularly in higher ed, we see a glut of PhDs who make less than $20,000 per year, while multiple administrators and ed tech people in a given department earn $40,000 minimum with benefits. Adjuncts are beginning to unionize. The idea of unionizing is being vilified, especially by administrators (deans, provosts, etc.) because it will cost them substantially more money to keep teachers. Further, it's finally illuminating to students that the money their families are shelling out does not go to the primary people responsible for their education. Provosts make upwards of $400,000 per year, and yet, professors are making $3500 per course. How is that fair? Unions have a history of being vilified because they deal with the labor class. It's all very bound up in the media's promotion of capitalism (as media is, likewise, bribed by their funders, etc. etc.).

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