We’ve all had that classroom situation when the students start begging for something. They want an extension on their papers, or a movie in class, or to make the test open-book.
When the chorus of young voices begins, we often respond by instinct: “No! Because I said so! This is not a democracy!”
And we’re right: our classrooms are not democracies. Teachers are there to teach, and to manage the students. We’re in charge because we know what’s best to help them learn.
But why should we teachers–adults be treated like our students?
We’re talking about our right to vote on the union that represents us. Did you know that fewer than 1% of current public school teachers in Pennsylvania had the opportunity to vote to certify the union that represents them?
That’s because the teachers’ union doesn’t have to stand for regular or even occasional re-elections in the workplace. Once certified, it’s in for life. And Pennsylvania teachers haven’t had an election to recertify the union in over 40 years. In Wisconsin, teachers have to vote in annual elections, and a union doesn’t get to represent workers unless 51% of the workers in the bargaining unit—not just a majority of voters—re-elect their union. Iowa instituted a similar law last year. Regular elections allow teachers and other government workers to re-affirm their union, and sets the stage for electing a different union if they prefer.
If you question a regular election policy, you get treated like you’re a teenager back in school. The national teachers’ unions like to be in charge without threats of competition. Their attitude is typical of how the union views its members. They love to get our dues and (until 2018) our agency fees every year. But responding to what we need and want is not high on their priority list.
If you’ve been reading our Free to Teach blog, you know that for the last few days, we and dozens of organizations all around America have been celebrating National Employee Freedom Week. It’s a declaration of independence for workers nationwide who are tired of national political organizations controlling the terms of their employment.
Government employees, especially public school teachers, are often kept in the dark about their options for opting in or out of their union. And as for which union will represent them? Well…it’s not a democracy.
So how can unions claim to be the “representatives” of teachers if the teachers never even got to vote? We criticize that kind of autocracy in civics class. Why should we accept it in the workplace?
This week, take a good hard look at whether you’re exercising your employee freedoms. If you don’t feel like the teachers’ union represents you―if you feel like you deserve a vote―why not reconsider those voluntary dues you send them each year? Opting out costs you nothing. It only puts the power back in your hands.