What would teaching be like without a union?

“It may be easy to decide to let others pay for your union benefits, but to be a person of integrity, you’d have to believe you’d be better off without a union. Otherwise, you really would be just a freeloader.

“But what’s it really like to work without a union? Many would brag that they could take care of themselves, that they don’t need anyone backing them up, but is this how it really works out?” (meamatters.org)

Some of the achievements of a union are so much more than financial. Michigan has only had collective bargaining rights since 1965. Here is what we’re missing:

    -Supervising lunch and/or recess, without extra compensation.

    -Last-minute and/or hours-long staff meetings.

    -Prep time? That’s why you have evenings and weekends!

    -Teachers were required to wear a jacket & tie (men) or dresses (women). 

    -In some places, every secondary teacher is required to also coach a sport or advise a club and elementary teachers are required to supervise students before and after school to accommodate parent schedules.

    -Your annual evaluation could be based on whether the person evaluating you likes you or not. Fear and intimidation create a hostile work environment in non-union schools. Tenure does not exist everywhere, and it was only earned through labor agreements.

    -You might not have adequate resources in your classroom, including a working phone to contact the office in an emergency, heat, or access to a copy machine.

    -You could be terminated for personal reasons such as getting divorced or pregnant, drinking alcohol, practicing an unpopular religion, or being homosexual or transgender.

    -Class sizes could be unlimited, and there would be no restrictions on extra assignments.

    -Elementary teachers were paid less than secondary, and women less than men. 

    -Your participation in school fundraisers could be mandatory, as it was in 2014 at a Pontiac, MI, charter-school fundraiser. Teachers were forced to take pies in the face or dress in costume and hold buckets for parent donations during a “teacher appreciation night.”

    -You might not have access to a teachers’ lounge, locking space for personal items, or a staff bathroom.

    -You would have no right to file a grievance or advocate for yourself or your students.

How does MEA use my dues money?

How does AEA use my local dues money?

MEA Lobbyists: What do they do all day?

Meet with legislators, any/all who will see them. 

Discuss upcoming bills

Co-draft legislation to benefit schools, teachers, and students

Urge legislators to vote education-friendly

Poll legislators and staff ahead of voting

Find co-sponsors for bills, preferably from opposing parties

Publish “report cards” on legislators to use for possible MEA endorsement or lack thereof

Send SOS messages to MEA leaders:

     -Encourage phone calls and letters

     -Enlist letters to the editor, editorials, etc.

Consult with MEA legal staff and educators to discern potential impact of new & current legislation; return this information to legislators

Update members through MEA Leadership conferences, newsletters, twitter, and the MEA Voice Magazine

What about that "million dollar insurance" policy?

The National Education Association (NEA) offers a “Million Dollar” Liability Insurance policy, free, as part of MEA membership.

You are covered! 

NEA supports state "hold harmless" legislation which requires that the employer pay for your defense or related damages in case you are sued. However, since this is not always available—and because the liability potential can be so serious for individuals employed by schools and other educational units—NEA provides all eligible association members with professional liability insurance through the NEA Educators Employment Liability (EEL) Program.

The EEL program is a professional liability insurance program. The program is totally dues-funded; members pay no separate fee. It is designed to protect association members— whether classroom teachers or support professionals—from personal financial liability for most incidents arising out of their educational employment activities or duties.

The EEL Program provides insurance coverage for a variety of situations which result in injury to someone other than members, for example, student injury or charges of educational malpractice.

    -Payment of the legal defense costs of up to $3,000,000 per occurrence in defending civil proceedings brought against you in the course of performing your educational employment activities.

    -Payment of up to $1,000,000 in damages assessed against you as a result of such civil proceedings.

    -Payment of up to $300,000 worth of defense, settlement or judgments and other supplementary payments for proceedings concerning Civil Rights. 

    -Reimbursement for attorney fees and other legal costs up to $35,000 if you are charged with violating a criminal statute in what otherwise would be within the course and scope of your educational employment activities, and you are exonerated of all charges by a court of law or all charges are withdrawn or dismissed.

    -Reimbursement of up to $1,000 of bail bond premium, if you must post a bond as the result of an occurrence arising out of your educational employment activities. (The insurance company is not required to furnish the bond.)

    -Payment of up to $500 for damages to your personal property when caused by an assault upon you in the course of your educational employment. (Vehicle and school property are excluded.)

    -Your coverage is worldwide, includes coverage on and off school grounds, and is in force 24 hours a day, as long as you are performing your educational employment activities.

Also, you should know that NEA's policy is an "occurrence policy." This means that your coverage is linked to when the "occurrence" took place. For example, if you are sued for a 2018 incident, coverage would be available to you if you were a member at the time of the "occurrence," even if such a claim or proceeding arises against you in the current year or in the future.

If there is a teacher shortage, what is MEA doing about it?

-Summits with the State Department of Education to discuss what would make the profession more enticing

-“Grow your Own” programs encouraging teachers to mentor potential educators, particularly students of color and who are interested in areas of high need

-Advocating legislators to reform teacher evaluation and student education away from a standardized-test-based model

-Continuing to support fair pay and benefits in order to make the profession more attractive

-Organizing, supporting, and training S-MEA chapters and members

-Hosting Early Career Educator training and support groups, to keep new teachers in the classroom

Opposing voices: Criticisms of the Labor Union

Maybe you have heard or even expressed some of these arguments against union membership:

    -The MEA’s political views are so much more liberal than mine!

    -It’s so expensive. I can’t afford membership!

    -Unions protect bad teachers.

    -I can fend for myself. 

    -Unions create a hostile “us vs. them” mentality with administration.

The Union is far from perfect, but membership is valuable for everyone.

The MEA’s political views are so much more liberal than mine!

Every education decision is a political decision. All elected officials make decisions that affect public schools, and Education Associations make a difference in how those politicians campaign, legislate, and answer to the public. If fully-funded public schools and well-compensated professional staff is a “liberal” idea, then, yes, the unions are liberal. MEA only makes recommendations based on education policy, and no one will tell you how you must vote. Zero dues dollars are used to elect candidates, though you are welcome to contribute to MEA-PAC. 

It’s so expensive. I can’t afford membership!

Yes, insurance is expensive, and that is exactly what your union membership is. You have insurance on your home, your cars, your life and body, your bank accounts, and much more. All of those cost money. The truth is, the union is funded by people just like you, with bills and hardships, and fewer members means services must be cut or dues for everyone else must increase. Don’t let others pay for benefits you gladly receive, such as pay raises, health insurance, job security, and representation in personnel issues. The start of a school year, when your step and percentage increase hits, is a great time to use that money to join the union and not impact your budget.

Unions protect bad teachers.

Weak administrators protect bad teachers. The union is like a lawyer: we defend everyone, but if the evidence against a teacher is strong, the teacher will be disciplined, mentored, or fired. The union representation will simply make sure appropriate steps are followed in the process. Administrators who do not take the time to “build a case” blame unions for lazy, unqualified, or even dangerous teachers. Every profession has a few members who should not remain, but schools with union representation do not have more of them than any other workplace. Before unions were commonplace, however, arbitrary firings were regular occurrences, and for sometime ridiculous reasons (a teacher got married or pregnant, for example: this is true!)

I can fend for myself. 

Does good, defensive driving mean you avoid all accidents? Do smoke detectors prevent fires? Are you always liked by everyone in every situation? The scary truth of this profession is that one accusation, no matter how baseless, could change your life. One simple mistake could lead to a tragedy. A new employee could create havoc and a hostile environment. Even if nothing ever goes wrong, your paycheck, benefits, and working conditions are all very difficult to negotiate individually. The way you are treated must be based on your status as an experienced professional and not as a measure of your popularity with administrators, students, colleagues, or community members. That system would lead to an impossible task of trying to keep everyone happy regardless of your personal needs and health.

Unions create a hostile “us vs. them” mentality with administration.

In some districts, there is a history of arguments, protests, accusations, and more. That does not mean it is the union that has made it a hostile environment. Certainly there are schools without unions that have the same issues. Of course there are going to be times when we disagree, and sometimes emotional reaction to less-than-careful statements can mean some intense debates and tense moments. The point of having a collective voice is that teachers don’t have to stand alone as either the hostile party or the victim of one. The union does the arguing, but only when it is needed, and it saves individuals from becoming targets.

In Alma specifically, we have a good working relationship with administration and the school board. Building reps and principals meet monthly and have productive conversations. They don’t always agree, but the communication helps with any misunderstanding and gives both parties the chance to express disagreement. As president and Vice-president, Beth & Deanna meet with Mrs. Criner and Mr. Jacobs monthly, attend all school board meetings, and we also have productive discussions that result in a lot more solutions than disagreements. At the negotiating table, our team is able to make suggestions that help teachers as well as the district, and to prioritize what teachers need most rather than what is easiest for the district. We would rarely describe more than a few minutes of any of those meetings as anything close to hostile. They are friendly discussions most of the time, and you can be proud of your district leadership, both APS and AEA!