Teachers' unions geared up for the school year's start--including in New Orleans

BlogHer Original Post

Before I get to the teachers' union news, you should know: I grew up in a union family and I'm unabashedly pro-union. Here's why: Mom and Dad were each members of at least three unions: the national, state, and local teachers' unions. They walked the picket lines and Dad even appeared in the newspaper chanting at a school board meeting. During the tenures of California governors George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson, we experienced some lean, if not uncomfortable, times in our household. Mom and Dad argued frequently about money, and I learned the importance of having a strong union and group of negotiators to maintain our household and our annual modest camping trips around California and neighboring states.

Fortunately, Mom and Dad retired a few years ago under a Democratic governor who supported teachers. After teaching for a combined 75+ years, they have an income that keeps them comfortable. At long last, they're being rewarded for their service. Big props to their unions!

I learned the importance of unionization first-hand. In 1997-98, I was earning a Master's degree. The English department offered me what at first sounded like a great job as a reader: I would sit in on Melville seminars, read along with the class, and grade papers. I like American literature, and the hours would still allow me plenty of time to take classes and work on my thesis.

But the "salary" I was offered was ridiculous: $300 for 10 weeks of work at about 20 hours/week of reading, class attendance, and paper grading. No, that's not $300 per week--that's $300 total. Do the math: that's $1.50 an hour. Did the parents of college students really want their papers graded by someone who would work for $1.50 an hour? And, of course, someone without health insurance.

The next year, all the University of California campuses unionized under the United Auto Workers. Today teaching assistants earn after taxes about $1300/month, which is not enough to live on in most university towns, but it's a dramatic improvement over the old days. And the university offers modest health insurance (though no disability insurance, as I learned all too well during a rough recovery from childbirth).

Yes, there are times when unions get greedy, and labor unfortunately often needs to concede to the fluctuations of the market. If your job can be sent overseas, there's not always a whole lot you can do in the negotiations department.

Fortunately, however, except in the case of e-learning, it's hard to outsource your public school teaching--yet a few of the education blogs gently remind us that doesn't mean teachers are getting terrific contracts.

Dr. Homeslice alerts us to a number of labor actions in education, including this one:

Insurance premiums a bargaining chip in the Harlem [Illinois] teacher strike. "Come back to work," says the district, "or we won't pay any more of your premiums."

(Read more about the Harlem strike here.)

Borderland tells a story of teachers during down their bonuses.

The Ways and Means of the Immune System blog hosts the Postdoc Carnival, in which we learn of the existence of a postdoc union--which has a blog, The Postdoc World, that chronicles postdoc activities around the world.

For those of us who are TAs without a union and thus without affordable health insurance, jill/txt brings word of a possible bloggers' union. Underpaid and underinsured TAs, start your pro-blogs!

Whitney Tilson's School Reform Blog brings us news of shifting views of merit pay for teachers.

The AFL-CIO blog shares a story of a union leader being arrested for talking to teachers.

Via the Chicago Public Radio blog, one union's plan to connect with charter school teachers. Do an internet search for "charter schools" and "union," and you'll see this district isn't alone in wanting to unionize charter school teachers.

Read more bloggy international teachers' union news at this Google blog search.

New Orleans teachers' union notes

Yahoo! News has an update on New Orleans schools, including their teachers' union.

CityPaper tells of one organization's efforts to recruit new teachers to New Orleans, and the union's reaction:

The New Orleans teachers' union, however, thinks that teachNOLA's out-of-state recruitment efforts are misdirected.

"We're not against new teachers coming down to New Orleans," says union spokesman Christian Roselund. However, Roselund believes that the district should first worry about scattered and unemployed pre-Katrina teachers. "We had thousands of experienced teachers [before the storm]. Those should have been the first rehired."

At Eduwonk, guestblogger Randi Weingarten reflects on the present and future of public education in New Orleans. An excerpt:

Our UTNO brothers and sisters would be the first to tell you that their struggle is not just about their right to have a union and a collective bargaining agreement, as important as that is. At stake in New Orleans is the future of American public education. Will we provide quality schooling for all, regardless of economic standing and race? Or will we become a nation of two sets of public schools, one for the ‘haves’ and one for the ‘have nots?’

AfroSpear offers a commentary on urban removal, or how to destroy a city and devastate in particular its African American residents. His list includes:

Step Fifteen. Close down all the public schools for months. This will prevent families with children in the public school system, overwhelmingly African Americans, from coming home.

Step Sixteen. Fire all the public school teachers, teacher aides, cafeteria workers and bus drivers and decertify the teachers union—the largest in the state. This will primarily hurt middle class African Americans and make them look for jobs elsewhere.

Step Seventeen. Even better, take this opportunity to flip the public school system into a charter system and push foundations and the government for extra money to the new charter schools. Give the schools with the best test scores away first. Then give the least flooded schools away next. Turn 70 percent of schools into charters so that the kids with good test scores or solid parental involvement will go to the charters. That way, the kids with average scores, or learning disabilities, or single parent families, who are still displaced, are kept segregated away from the “good” kids. You will have to set up a few schools for those other kids, but make sure those schools do not get any extra money, do not have libraries, nor doors on the toilets, nor enough teachers. In fact, because of this, you better make certain there are more security guards than teachers.


What are your thoughts on teachers' unions and the situation in New Orleans?

Leslie Madsen-Brooks helps university faculty improve their teaching. She blogs at The Clutter Museum, Museum Blogging, and The Multicultural Toy Box.