The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

You Can’t Scare Me; I’m Stickin’ to the Union!

on September 30, 2015

I can’t count all the times I’ve read articles condemning teacher unions for protecting incompetent teachers or forcing ones who don’t want to belong to pay dues anyway.  Isn’t there anything different that union haters can complain about?

Although I’m not ready to defend all the teachers unions in the U.S.– because I don’t know them- I will exhort the excellence of  Madison Teachers Incorporated (MTI) in Wisconsin.  I belonged to it as a teacher and worked with it as a principal.

Before I came to live and work in Madison, I taught in three different school districts in New Jersey and was never aware of any local unions.  I remember having the opportunity to represent teachers in my own school once or twice, asking the School Board for a salary increase or better working conditions.  But those were just “requests” with no power behind them.  Sometimes the Board acquiesced; more often, it didn’t.

What I remember even better, however, were unreasonable conditions at a couple of schools.  For example, in my first school male teachers were automatically paid more than female teachers because “they were heads of households.”  Never mind that there were also many single women teachers who were supporting not only  themselves but also other family members.  Also, at that school  teachers had no breaks on most school days.  We supervised our kids at recess, ate lunch with them, and were required to teach them PE twice a week.  In addition, there was a strict dress code, and we were warned that we’d better not be seen in any local pubs. I stayed at that school for only one year.

Things were never that bad at any other school where I taught in New Jersey.  But at times there were excessive demands, unfair decisions, also some racial and religious discrimination that we just had to put up with.

In Madison, school conditions were better right from the start.  Salaries were higher, class loads were reasonable, and there were planning periods during every school day.  Soon after arriving I joined the union, and later I became our school representative.  During my eleven years as a teacher in Madison, I filed one grievance against the school district, in conjunction with several other teachers.  The union took up our cause and secured a decision in our favor.

Still, I was not aware of all that our union did for teachers until I became a principal. Working with the union I was able to help a few of our school staff members caught in difficult situations.  First, we managed to  get a leave of absence for our school librarian who wanted to take care of her dying mother. Then we fought for our school nurse, who was emotionally incapacitated for some months by a family tragedy.  She was being was pressured to resign by her superiors, but the union got her a leave of absence instead.  She returned after a few months and performed her job just fine. Finally, one of our teachers who had been transferred out at the end of the school year because of low student number projections, was denied the right to return when the  number of students arriving in the fall  turned out to be much larger. The district replaced her with a new hire.  But the union took up her cause, and the district relented.   About two weeks into the school year, our teacher  was returned to us. In all those instances, the union prevailed and our staff members received fair treatment.

I also remember union assistance on the few occasions when we had problems with poorly functioning teachers. They  worked with me and those teachers  to resolve matters swiftly in a just and dignified manner. The union was particularly helpful to an older teacher who had been effective in the past, but now was no longer able to do everything that needed to be done.  They  also helped  one younger teacher who had developed a chronic illnesses that caused frequent absences. Both teachers resigned, but with unanticipated  benefits from the school district.

Over the thirteen years I was principal of that school, the MTI was our partner in preserving and furthering our teachers’ dedication to their work and our school’s excellence.  I can’t believe that other unions are not doing similar good work around the country.  How come no one is talking or writing about it?

One response to “You Can’t Scare Me; I’m Stickin’ to the Union!

  1. Shaari says:

    I love reading your blog. Thank you Joanne for doing this, people are reading and it helps me smile at the end of a hard day at school….sometimes just knowing there are others that think about education the same way and see what’s wrong but look for the great that is out there too!


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