Teachers Leave State Union

In most states, teachers’ unions work like this: there is a local affiliation at the district level, overseen by a state organization, which in turn belongs to a national group like the AFT or the NEA. When I was a new teacher, after just days in my first classroom, a union rep knocked on my door and asked to chat. He outlined what the union did and he didn’t mince words when he told me that, although I had the right to refuse to join without jeopardizing my employment, if I didn’t join, I was little better than a parasite enjoying union benefits without chipping in.

He really didn’t need to strong arm me. I was union bred. My father walked picket lines a number of times at the meat processing plant where he worked for over forty years while the company sought to break the union – which it eventually did. I was a good union girl. I wouldn’t cross picket lines, and I joined.

Although the union offered a somewhat reduced membership fee for first year teachers, I made only $18,200 my that year. And I saw only very modest raises for nearly a decade. In that first year — with dues, rent, utilities and student loans — I was lucky to scrape up $50 or $60 for groceries every two weeks. And forget about discretionary spending money. I had $20 to my name at the end of every month.

But I paid my dues for ten years. Until one day, after reading yet another newspaper article about our union president and his widely divergent political ideals and machinations, I resigned. The union may have gallantly bargained in my name, but the politics – ideas that I supported financially – seemed to be specific to a small group of people, and largely out of step with my own.

I spent the last ten years of my career as a parasite, and I can see the union’s point of view. They expend time and energy negotiating contracts for all employees, regardless of affiliation. But they also foist ideals and goals on their membership that are paid for by those members without much representation.

Linn-Mar teachers in Iowa recently decided they’d had enough of the state union and the NEA. They felt their interests — and the needs of their students –were being unheard, or even sacrificed, in favor of larger political interests they didn’t agree with. The teachers took a vote and resigned.

This spring the Linn-Mar teachers will negotiate their own contract with the school district without assistance from the ISEA (Iowa State Education Association). Outwardly the make up of the Linn-Mar collective hasn’t changed. They have an elected president and representatives from each school. The cadre that negotiates their contract will be made up of representatives who have done this type of thing before, albeit with the state union support.

The general public rails against unions, calling them obstructive to the teaching process, but unions came into being mainly to ensure fair working wages and to protect teachers from unfair personal harassment by parents, administrators and school boards. All politics being basically local are best illustrated by the nepotism and good old boys network of local school systems where teachers who try to initiate necessary changes — or speak out on the behalf of better teaching practices — can, and have, lost their jobs when feathers of well-heeled community members or administrators were ruffled.

The Obama administration is attempting to foster a top down overhaul of our public school system, but schools have always been local matters. The founding fathers deliberately left education to the states and local communities. Teachers taking matters of change into their own hands, with an eye on what matters to the community, is the real change we need.


photo credit: Teachers by Old Sarge


Erin R.
Erin R7 years ago

Thanks for posting!

connor h.
connor h7 years ago

thanks! for anyone who's interested here are some other great sites to click for good causes

Gwendolyn Krupa
Gwendolyn Krupa7 years ago

I, respectfully, disagree with those who feel that unions are no longer needed. Without representation, how long do we have before the greedy employers stop working on safe work conditions, fair wages and benefits?

Donna F.
Donna F7 years ago

Still pro-union!

Monica K.
Monica K7 years ago

Well Ms Bibby, you are apparently really proud of withdrawing from your union and still being able to negotiate and organize without them. First of all, what you did was simply to organize your own union. Secondly, that union would have absolutely NO power if unions were not plowing a path ahead of you. Thirdly, you speak about unions as if they were some corporation in charge of all their members. You ARE the union. A union is made up of it's membership and EVERY decision is voted on by the membership! How many union meetings did you attend? How many times did you bother to vote? Did you care who was elected to the leadership of your union? And last but not least, keep throwing the baby out with the bath water and one day soon there will be no unions and see where you are when big business and corporations TELL you what you'll do for what amount of money and benefits. And I don't want to hear you whining then!

Silvia H.
Silvia H7 years ago

I think that unions are still valid and serve workers the best they can. Without them we would not have many of the labor laws we have today and we tend to forget this part. They fought for workers rights when they had none.

I still think that unions serve their purpose: support workers to get better contracts. Without unions many workers would be left out with very little rights. There are laws that protect workers now that did not exist before but the problem is that corporations have more money than workers so guess who wins in this situation? If I am to file a lawsuit I need money and the lawsuit can last a long time ....

You have to look at the good and the bad. The compromising part (the sausage making deals) is not pretty. Nobody likes it. Still you need the group bargaining to create strength.

Jessica G.
Jessica G7 years ago

thank you!!

Jessica G.
Jessica G7 years ago

thank you!!

Ellinor S.
Ellinor S7 years ago

Thank you

Christopher Fowler

In the early days of unions, they served a very useful purpose; and, from time to time, they still do. However their days are numbered as we have entered a time in our history where unions no longer serve those that they represent, but only serve themselves and their own infrastructure.

If an organization has to strong-arm people to join, then that organization is corrupt and does not serve it's members.

We have the ability to create laws in this country to protect workers in all fields. Some laws have already been created, but they need to be properly enforced.

As far as teachers go, they deserve better pay and school systems that put their needs above the pay rates of the school board members paychecks.
The states can enact laws to insure that, but does not. Why?
Politics. The school board is nothing but politicians and care more for themselves than the teachers and community that they are supposed to serve.

Get rid of the politicians on the school boards and replace them with teachers, because politicians have no clue about what teachers really need to do their job. Only a teacher knows what teachers need to do their jobs in the best way possible.