(By Andrew McCuaig, English teacher, LaFollette High School)
Joining a union is an act of faith: a belief that people coming together with similar daily work lives can have an impact on those people who may have goals that don’t take into account anything but the bottom line. By joining a union, you are asserting that you were not put on this earth merely to do what you were told, but that you believe you should have a say in your own livelihood. But more than that, as a union member you believe that wealth should be more evenly
distributed, that supervisors should not have absolute power, and that the details of the actual work should be mutually agreed upon, because you cannot get that coal out of the ground, that car made, or that student to graduate without a contract that respects both sides. Renew at www.madisonteachers.org
But joining a union is also a practical matter. Wherever unions exist, wages are higher. That is one reason why corporate interests throughout history have tried to weaken unions whenever they can. Fair wages, vacation days, sick leave, maternity leave, overtime, seniority, even the notion of a 40 hour work week – all exist because of the Labor Movement, and all cut into a company’s bottom line. When you pay union dues, you are supporting a staff that bargains on your behalf, that defends you when you require defending, or, more likely, defends someone else you might not even know who has your same job and is being treated unfairly. If the accused has truly screwed up, they get due process and what’s coming to them. If they haven’t, they are not simply fired in a Donald Trump dreamworld but are given their job back. The employer, meanwhile, is given a message not to abuse its authority.
Madison teachers are now actively responding to two union-busting rules justified by our state legislature’s notion of fairness: the elimination of automatic dues deductions by employers, and the option for teachers to not pay their “fair share” dues once our contract expires on June 30th. “Fair share” dues refers to the decades-old court ruling that workers who choose not to join a union must still pay for those services that they benefit from. The recent 4-4 Supreme Court deadlock on “fair share” upholds this practice for private sector unions but doesn’t affect Wisconsin’s teachers and other public employees under Act 10. Starting this month, teachers in every Madison school will be encouraging each other to continue their membership with MTI by supplying their bank’s routing number to pay dues. Some will need convincing, and some will want to pocket their dues now that they can. This will surely cause tension among colleagues. Also causing tension will be the teacher who keeps the money and then finds himself unfairly disciplined and in need of union representation he is now not entitled to. It’s a nice divide and conquer ploy, and those responsible deserve credit for their meanness.
On the other hand, heading into this new, mean work environment gives Madison teachers a chance to come together in solidarity, to freshly justify our existence, and to educate a new generation of teachers why we have just cause, paid sick days, and other things we now take for granted. The continued existence and influence of MTI will no doubt keep the meanest politicians up at night, which is just another reason to sign up.