Mt. Rainier and Lenticular Clouds - Dec. 2008 copyright: JMM

September 15, 2009

Justified or Irresponsible?

Unions are ruining this country. There. I said it.

For the past few weeks, the teachers in the Kent School District have been on strike because they were unhappy with the contract presented to them by the District. This happens every single year in one or more of the school districts in Western Washington. Initially, the parents are supportive, but the more time that goes by, the more inconvenienced the parents become and support for the teachers plummets. Last week, a Judge ordered the teachers back to work or face a $200.00 per teacher, per day fine. Sunday night, they finally reached an agreement and school opened yesterday. I find it rather disgusting that the teachers only agreed to go back to work when the money was coming out of their pockets. At least they have jobs, unlike my husband who is now on Month #13 with no work, and now his unemployment benefits have run out.

A few years ago, the Marysville School District stayed on strike until the last part of October. It screwed the kids over big time, especially the seniors who were relying on sports scholarships and early admission into college. It further screwed the students over because they had to make up the lost time by foregoing school breaks and attending school almost until the 4th of July, and many seniors lost valuable summer work wages.

The biggest sticking point is the "smaller class size" thing. They complain because they don't get enough one-on-one time with the kids, and many of the kids don't speak English. Well we can solve the smaller class size thing by controlling the population. When I was in school there was no such thing as one on one time with the teacher, unless you went for extra help during lunch, study hall or after school. As for our non-English speaking kids, LEARN THE DAMN LANGUAGE. We had an influx of Vietnamese families into my hometown, in the early 80's....or at that time they were known around the world as "the boat people". They integrated into the USA and the kids who attended Sandwich High School learned English. The exchange students learned English. Quit mollycoddling these people, especially those who are illegal, and force them into an English immersion class. Seriously.

I never even heard of teachers going on strike until we moved to Washington. I don't believe it happened in California, and I know it didn't happen in Sandwich. Why are these teachers punishing the kids by going on strike at the beginning of the school year? I realize that they are underpaid, overworked and underappreciated. They take a lot of crap from the many ill-mannered kids and teens. But is going on strike really helping the kids? I don't think so.

A few months back, I posted a question to my friends, on Facebook, asking whether those people with children would be willing to give up their Child Income Tax Credit or their hefty tax refund (b/c they can claim their kids), and have that money be funneled towards their respective schools. The people with children responded, "No". They were not willing to give up their child tax credit or their refund, because they stated that they didn't trust the government to actually give that money to their school districts. I then posed the question, "Is it fair that childless couples see their property taxes go up and up, yet we have no child exemption to claim and our refunds are much smaller?" Surprisingly, not one person who had kids thought of it that way. I really believe that this would help the schools tremendously. I don't see why childless couples have to do more than their fair share for the schools when the people who have kids and need the schools are getting refunds upwards of $3,000 every spring at tax time (where we only get about $500 as our tax refund, IF we are lucky).

I realize why unions were started and yes, there is a need for them. Some of them. Like the garment workers union, to keep them from being worked 18 hours a day in sweat-shop conditions. But teachers? I don't agree with their being unionized. I was in the electrical workers union (IBEW) when I worked at Channel 56, so I have some experience in this area. I felt that our shop stewards were a bit too hardcore and ridiculous, the way they constantly threatened "to file a grievance" for every little thing. I remember one time when one of the news talent accidentally touched or moved one of the studio cameras. Only IBEW members were allowed to touch the equipment. Some of the guys in the studio got super indignant and pretty much dressed down the newscaster and telling them to never touch any equipment again or else a grievance would be filed with our union. I rolled my eyes. Even when I went back to visit in 1991, some of my former coworkers reminded me not to touch the equipment b/c I wasn't in the union anymore. Oh and let's not forget the times when a Director would go to ask one of the crew a question like 5 minutes before we were "on the clock". We would be standing outside studio control, waiting to start work in 5 minutes, a Director would ask a question and inevitably someone would say, "We're not on the clock yet. Ask again at 3:15." Give me a break.

As some of you may or may not know, Washington is home to the Boeing Company. There are several plants where the planes are assembled. Every 2 or 3 years, the machinists union goes on strike b/c they don't like their contract. They want more money. "Mo' money! Mo' money! Mo' money!!", if I may quote from an "In Living Color" sketch. They end up on strike for at least 30-60 days, the planes go unbuilt, the orders stack up or are canceled, Boeing's clients end up going to Airbus, and when everyone does finally return to work, Boeing ends up laying off thousands of people because the plane orders dropped. The Boeing plant in South Carolina has just voted to disband their chapter of the machinists union. This means that Boeing can now move their assembly lines to SC, and tell WA to fuck off. The Boeing workers up here don't seem to be worried about it, but I am worried about it. If Boeing decides to move the bulk of their assembly to a right-to-work state like SC, the economy in Western Washington will really take a hit, and it's bad enough as it is.

So, what say you? Unions: Justified or Unreasonable?


  1. Anonymous2:49 PM

    It's tough to know at the moment what to say. I understand the need to protect jobs by the Unions, but some of them seem so bloody-minded, you'd think we were all living in a land of endless milk and honey, and the recession was happening to someone else. For example, the 'Public Service' unions in the UK are threatening strikes if there are any cuts in services, BUT we simply can't AFFORD the levels we currently have, or maybe they're happy for us to dive even deeper into public debt than we are already have...

  2. I don't know what things are like for teachers in the US, JoJo, but in the UK, people who don't join a teaching union are fools. They protect you if a headteacher bullies you, they give you legal help if a child or parent makes an accusation against you or if you are injured on the job. Teachers don't strike to punish the children but to protect education and their own standards of living. If their pay and conditions are not protected then there won't be enough teachers and then the suffering of children's education will be long-term or permanent, instead of the short term of a strike. We are not a charity, we have to live, too. If you deny teachers their rights, you won't improve matters for people like Brian. You will just make them worse for the teachers and for education in general.

  3. I was hoping you'd weigh in on this Val, as a teacher. :)

  4. I agree with everything Val said. And, please note that it takes two sides to make a strike such as the one in Kent. The school district could have negotiated over the course of the summer to try to prevent distruptions once the school year started, but had no incentive to do so. The only power the teachers have is once school is in session. I am a teacher; I know teachers, and believe me, there is nothing more that they want than to settle issues before the school year begins. But the district says nothing but, "Sorry, this is our best offer," all summer long. Funny how, after school has been distrupted for a week, they found some wiggle room on the issues after all. Any reason that couldn't have happened in June?

    I've also always been uncomfortable with people believing that they have no obligation to the coming generation unless they have children represented in it. All of our futures' are dependent on having an on-going skilled workforce and strong economy. It's not only parents who count on programs such as Social Security and Medicare in their advanced years, but those and other programs will fold if the workforce in place during our advanced years isn't educated and competetive. Parents will reap the benefits, but so too will the people who never had children themselves. Worst of all, in my estimation, are those older parents who say, "Well, my kids have graduated, so I'll never vote for a school bond again." Absolute hypocrisy!

  5. There is a lot I want to say but, I'm terrible with words. I will just say...I'm the daughter of a High School Principal and a Kindergarten Teacher....I will always support public education and Teachers.

    ps: Glad you're blogging again Jojo!

  6. DP - I guess my mom is one of those 'hypocrites'. :) But she's on a fixed income and she can't afford for her property taxes, already sky high on Cape Cod, to keep going up for school bonds; esp. when her one and only child graduated 27 yrs ago. lol

    I guess childless couples look at the school issues completely differently than people with children. I do support the teachers and I do agree that they should be paid a fair/living wage. I also agree that they need way less meetings. But I just feel bad for the kids who end up having to go to school till July to make up for the strike. Do childless couples reap benefits from the coming generations? Yes. BUT again, we don't get the child tax credit, we get a much smaller tax refund AND our property taxes keep going up. I think that the child tax credit needs to go away, or that money should go directly into the school district in which the people live. Or, the parents can donate their tax refunds to their schools. Esp. those families who are renting and not paying property taxes at all.

    My post was really more about unions in general though.

  7. Its all about the money. Unions are not doing what they initially were formed for.
    Its just like human rights....another excuse to hide behind when you don't put out to society.

    Here we have doctors and nurses striking, causing casualties on a daily basis, because the fuckers (who HAVE jobs) are greedy. They already earn more than a sod like me, who has to run 3 LIVES, and I think they are fucking spoilt, hiding behind unions for no good reason.

  8. I think there's a big danger of taking out frustrations on the wrong people. Unionised labour (certainly in the UK) is about conditions as well as pay. Many doctors and almost all nurses are underpaid over here, but why should they forego the right to withdraw their labour if they are taken advantage of? The people who are taking liberties are the fat cats who earn absolute fortunes, then have bonuses on top, and have accountants who fiddle their taxes so that they pay less tax than a person on minimum wage.