As a teacher in the Chicago suburbs, it was hard to miss everyone on their soapbox last week as people who are not normally interested in discussing politics weighed in on just how appropriate (or not) they felt the teachers’ strike was. Most comments were coupled with a disgust that teachers dare ask for more money, better benefits or any kind of job security.
One of my friends summed up the general public’s point of view best when she said, “Most people get paid less than teachers and don’t have any kind of job security. If they want what’s best for the children, they really should just go back to work like the rest of us and quit complaining.” I was met with equal resistance when I countered any such arguments with the rationale that better pay and benefits makes and attracts better, happier teachers which, in turn, makes better, happier students, or the fact that teachers have one of the most important jobs in the world – educating our nation’s youth – and should be paid accordingly.
However, once the strike was officially declared over and students went back to school, things fizzled out and not many people have mentioned it since.
But this week there was another group of people striking for fair pay: NFL referees.
Yesterday, though, as I was scrolling through my personal Facebook feed, I saw post after post complaining about the bad call by the stand in referees at the end of Monday night’s Packers versus Seahawks game. Status updates and comical, meme-style pictures joked about how incapable the stand-ins are and complained about how they cost the Packers the game.
Not one post criticized the locked-out referees for being selfish in asking for better pay, benefits and job security.
Sure, football fans everywhere — and Packers fans especially — want the regular referees to get back to work, but why isn’t the general public talking about the referees’ strike as they were the teachers’? Fortunately, the refs reached a deal earlier today.
While it might be easy to say that the referees had actually been locked out by the owners and didn’t initiate the strike themselves, the fact remains that, if the refs took what was being offered to them, they could get back to work and start calling those plays, and all would be right with the world. This makes the two situations strikingly similar — similar enough to use the same rhetoric to discuss the two: If you can say about the teachers’ strike that most people don’t have unions so they should take what they are given or that teachers should have gotten back to work and quit their complaining, you can say the same about the referees.
People aren’t using the same rhetoric to complain about the two situations, though, because of our society’s priorities. Of course, most people value education, but they also value their tax dollars. Since teachers are paid primarily from tax dollars, and no one wants to pay more in taxes to account for higher teacher salaries, teachers are often paid less. Referees are paid by the billionaire owners, and getting the refs back to work is a matter of $250,000 per team – pocket change for these powerhouses. Therefore, the protests turn more toward the owners and their greed rather than toward the referees and theirs.
We must not forget, also, that football is king in America. While the general public values education, they absolutely love their football. It’s much easier to criticize something you value than it is to criticize something you love. As a society, we also tend to believe that sports and sports officials have a special set of skills and talents and should be paid for those skills and talents. However, we tend to believe that anyone can be trained to be a teacher, so that skill set isn’t special enough to warrant more pay.
For both teachers and referees – and any other union job – it’s not about striking. It’s about using the only tool we have in our belts to ensure we have the best possible working conditions. Many people disagree with that method and, in a democratic society, that is their right. However, use caution when discussing union actions; what works for one group works for the other, too.
Congrats to the NFL refs for reaching an agreement this morning!
Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon