Saturday, January 25, 2014

Some pragmatism for a Saturday morning

George Will wrote a week ago on this issue. He's written on it a few times. It's an issue with which I struggle. Here's the column. I understand his perspective, and he articulates his ideas well, but I can't agree with him (though a few years ago I would have).

It's a bit hard to reconcile my membership in a labor union with my conservative leanings, even though those leanings aren't as conservative as they were a few years ago. I do see the principled argument one could have against employees whose pay comes from public funds agitating for political candidates who will be more likely to strike deals that, well, increase pay.

My last decade in public education has taught me a lot about the value in advocating for myself. For a decade, the resources we have had to do our job have been whittled. This hasn't all taken place because of the current political powers in Pennsylvania, nor has it all taken place because of the recession and its aftermath (a recession that technically ended in June 2009). The trends that have been diminishing the resources with which we teach began during the administration of an "education governor."

I've come to accept the necessity of advocating for my own job and way of life, and in part I do that through membership in a labor union. It's naive for me to think others will fight for me, or at least a sufficient numbers of others will fight for me for me to sit on the sidelines. If workers cannot organize, how will they be able to leverage enough power to fight that their point of view be heard. My union essentially fights for me when I don't have the time to know the issues and politicians enough to effectively fight for myself.

In the past five years, I've seen a half dozen very promising teachers leave my district. Two have left for districts that will pay them better. Three have left for higher-paying career fields. (One left for a very promising graduate school opportunity.) I know of one other who is actively looking for something that will pay her better for the hard work and long hours she has to commit to do her job well. These teachers are leaving a district that serves an affluent area and that consistently earns good scores on all the metrics that seem to matter these days. But it's also a district that has too shrewdly figured out how to trim labor costs, so shrewdly that other districts can poach it for its best and brightest, and that other job fields can offer an other side of the street with much greener grass.

So I've come to see the value in voting for one's job. It's not principled, but the last decade has left me less principled. I have a family to support and I have students to teach. And I'm becoming less bashful about fighting for the things that help me do those things.

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