By Joseph Romano - LUT Corresponding Secretary
Early in the film The Lord of the Rings, the white wizard, Gandalf, explains to the protagonist, Frodo the hobbit, that Frodo’s Uncle Bilbo left Frodo in possession of “The Ring,” an item of extreme evil power. Gandalf further explains that the dark lord, Sauron, is hunting for the ring, will soon track it down, and in so doing, destroy Frodo and his home. Immediately sensing the dire circumstances, Frodo looks at Gandalf and asks quite simply, and quite heroically, “What must I do?”
All union educators, indeed all union workers of any kind across America, find themselves in dire circumstances. Those who are skilled at reading the tea leaves of Supreme Court proceedings believe that in June the highest court in the land will decree that union agency fees are optional while still compelling unions to provide services and representation to those who no longer choose to pay for them. The reduction in revenue coming into unions, and the subsequent loss of strength and power which will result, could drive back the progress of unions to pre-World War II levels. Read more about the Friedrichs case here.
In New York State, a property tax cap law has been implemented which has hamstrung districts into drastic program cuts and staffing reductions. Some districts have had to shut the doors of several of their buildings in an effort to make ends meet. In addition, the Governor’s initial budget proposal calls for only a fraction of the funds promised ion GEA Restoration:
And all of this comes at a time when cooperate driven reforms to education have produced dysfunctional curriculum and a system of standardized testing which has taken a lot of the joy of teaching, and of learning, out of our classrooms.
Indeed the dark lords have come for education and are striking blow after blow against the institutions we hold so dear. In these dire circumstances, it is incumbent upon all of us to ask the question, “What must I do?”
My answer to that question is a simple one: educators across our county must do exactly what we do best, educate! One of the most passionate educators I have ever met, Mr. Frank Abel of Uniondale Schools, once said in an interview that you cannot make students do anything. What you can do is make them understand the reasons why they should want to do it. For those of us who care about the future of public education and organized labor in this country, we must educate the stakeholders on these issues that support of labor rights and support of public education is the right thing to do, and we must start today.
If some of our union colleagues are reluctant to pay agency fees, we must educate them as to why they should. We must make them aware that every dollar they spend goes towards their benefit. We must provide them with statistics and undeniable evidence that being part of a union leads to better wages, better working conditions, better benefits, and better job security. Just as we must do in teaching our students, we can’t just make statements and expect those statements to be accepted as dogma. We must support our opinions with facts.
There are over 14 million union workers in this country. The Friedrichs v. California Teachers’ Association case is, allegedly, about the freedom of those union workers to exercise their right to freedom of speech by not paying union dues. Well, the millions of union workers in this country who disagree with this notion can exercise their free speech rights as well! Over the next few months, we must do whatever we can through words and actions to bring attention to this issue. We must educate the Supreme Court as to what the majority of union workers believe is right and just, and educate the public as to why past practice and agency shop fees are fair and just.
Showing a simple video can explain simply and clearly to those who disagree that the failure of a union worker to pay agency shop fees for services they receive as nothing more than freeloading:
As far the tax cap is concerned, whether a 60% supermajority for exceeding the prescribed tax levy increase is constitutional or not, it is currently the law of the land and likely will be for the immediate future. If our schools require more funding, we must educate the public as to the reasons why we need more money. We must continue to educate the public about the consequences of unfunded state and federal mandates and insist that our elected leaders give a clear choice to our taxpayers as to the consequences of not voting for a budget which exceeds the tax cap. And if these leaders do not listen, we must harness the voting power of all union workers uniting behind candidates that do appreciate the importance of supporting teachers and adequately funding public education.
The bottom line for all educators is this: the days of thinking that you can come to work and only worry about what goes on inside your classroom are over. What is going on in education outside your classroom is destroying your ability to do anything you might wish to do inside your classroom. Indeed, in many cases, these outside influences may one day cost you an opportunity to do your job at all. The dark lord is coming for public education and will not stop until he has destroyed the institution we hold so dear. We either fight back or we stand to lose everything worth fighting for. And when we fight back, we need to do so by doing what we do best, educating!