Saturday, September 17, 2005

On The Line: A Heartbreaking Experience

As I walked an informational picket line yesterday, my heart was breaking. I never would have imagined myself carrying a sign in front of the building housing the organization that has meant more to me than anything in my professional life. It's where I learned the most, gained confidence, received support and training, and became the best educator and leader I could.

So, as the state board met inside, we picketed and they ignored us. They have been "instructed" not to talk to us about our current contract negotiations.

My job is to serve them and I fight every day to make sure they are treated with dignity and respect in their work. If they need skills, I find a way to provide them. If their organizations need strengthening, I help them do that. If someone wants to fire them, I protect their rights. I sit with them at their bargaining tables and negotiate contracts, file grievances, and go up against the bad guys.

But the current management refuses to sit down and bargain with us. For three years in a row, they have called for a mediator. They've come to the table asking for "take backs". They want to deny us the same raises we get for our members. They have failed to replace 7 staff members in the past year and half, and they still to want to expand their layoff rights.

Basically, for the first time in my memory, the organization I work for is treating their own staff like expensive bums who cost too much and do too little.

When I chose education as a vocation, I thought I avoided the dehumanization of working in the corporate world. Yes, I learned how to stand up for myself and my students and I was willing to take the backlash from principals and administrators. But I was so proud that I never felt like a cog in a big wheel or a profit unit that could be easily disposed of to increase the bottom line.

Ultimately, the organization meant so much to me I chose to give back and serve on its staff. I wanted to support public schools and strengthen the teaching profession. Instead, I'm fighting for some respect from the same folks who won't even sit down and work this out.

We talk a lot about "public" and "private" relationships in my work. We advise our members not to let their principals tell them their building is like a "family" because it's not. Families are disfunctional and messy organisms where its members can lie, betray, and misbehave and still find love and support. Work is "public" and we expect more professional behavior in our business relationships. Contracts must be honored. Commitments must be kept. Colleagues must be treated with respect. We demand it for our members. This isn't personal, it's professional.

But it can still break your heart.


At 1:12 PM, Blogger Ann Thrope said...

Great post. Good luck with the negotiations. (Oh, and btw I've really been enjoying the prolific blogging this week. Rock on!)

At 7:45 PM, Blogger Baby Chronicles said...


I believe we are going to be in the same boat in Illinois this year. I'm here for you sister friend!!!


At 9:32 PM, Blogger Loganite said...

I read with interest the article about the informational picket and the labor dispute that was published in The Seattle Times Sunday morning. It seems only fair that our professional staff deserve fair compensation for their hard work just as the "people in the trenches" do as well. If the masses have earned more, then the WEA has also realized increased revenue from a more dues (higher incomes means the percentage of dues equals more actual dollars to WEA). Some of that revenue shjould be put toward fair compensation for professional staff.

Hang in there and fight the good fight.

A loyal WEA member,
-- L.


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