I had a conversation with a teacher friend of mine recently, who happens to work in a different school district than I do. She said she is not a union member, but that she votes for recertification every year because she strongly believes in the union.
She said paying union dues would be a financial hardship for her. That comes up frequently in my discussions of union membership. I can understand the price tag looks hefty when you are also looking at your other expenses, including the hundreds of dollars most of us spend on our students for crayons, tissues, snacks, socks and so on.
I certainly understand the cost concerns. Like so many of us, I am also paying never ending student loans, trying to figure out how to pay all my monthly bills and put money away for retirement, and making sure I have enough to cover everything each paycheck. But what most people don’t understand is that a membership in our union more than pays for itself.
To explain the financial benefits of union membership to my friend, I used three examples of teachers whose real names I will not use here.
“Bob” is a first-year teacher. While it might be hard financially, he decides to join the union because he wants to pay his fair share for everything the union does on everyone’s behalf. He pays his dues but does not get involved in the union otherwise. He doesn’t attend any union events or professional development workshops, get involved in union leadership, participate in any union programs or take advantage of the consumer discounts the union negotiates for all members. Still, his membership strengthens his union and enables his union’s leaders to work more effectively with the district on his behalf. They advocate for a fair calendar, get just-cause provisions added to the employee handbook, and negotiate salary increases for all teachers, including him.
Bob also gets $1 million in liability insurance, and the peace of mind that comes with it. This is free for union members but could cost hundreds of dollars per year if Bob bought it on his own. The pay increase Bob received was more than twice the amount of his union dues, and he would not have gotten it if the union’s negotiators had not fought for it.
Next there is John. He didn’t join his union. In fact, his local doesn’t have any members left. Because no one was advocating for John, he and his colleagues will all lose a prep and have to take on an extra class next year. He will not get a raise, and he has no liability insurance in case something goes wrong.
Would you rather be a Bob or a John?
Then there is Sarah.
She joined her union and got involved. She took the union’s free micro-credential course on bullying, which counted toward the professional development hours her district requires. She was nominated to attend a leadership conference, so the union flew her to Texas to attend a three-day event with hundreds of other educators from throughout the United States. She attended WEAC’s two-day Professional Issues Conference in Eau Claire, and the costs were covered by her statewide and regional associations. She has a network of support behind her, and, like Bob, her union negotiated a pay increase that was more than twice her annual dues.
The more you get involved, the stronger you are, and the stronger our union is. The more we can do for each other the more we can do for our students. I explained all of this to my friend who thinks she can’t afford to join the union. And I hope that she will see the value that I see. Until then, I will be sure to remind her, and others, that it’s our collective voice that keeps us strong.
President of WEAC Region 6