Teacher Union Voices – State Politics

(The views expressed here are those of the author alone.)

Hello everyone. Even though given the chance to stay anonymous I shall not. My name is Kenny and I am a member of AFT-West Virginia. I have served as a local president as well as an at-large member of the state federation’s Executive Board.

I want to thank Mike for giving me the opportunity to speak in this forum.

When asked to speak on a particular subject, I decided to choose politics. More specifically, state politics.

In WV we join unions by “choice,” not by law. We do not have collective bargaining for school employees. So why join a union at all? Protection. As a teacher, it only takes three words to ruin your career: “They touched me.” You don’t have to be guilty. You can be completely exonerated. But you are marked for life. Legal bills can go into six figures in a flash. A union will provide legal aid and insurance.

Without collective bargaining, we have to lobby the legislature and the governor to effect changes in our salary and working conditions. This gets us into the sordid world of politics.

I am a staunchly conservative person, both fiscally and socially. So I have had to sit and stew on many occasions when my union decided to “enter the realm.” When I joined the AFT in 1988 the union stayed out of all non-school issues. Their attitude at the time was that members were intelligent enough to make their own decisions concerning personal beliefs and that there was enough room in the AFT for teachers of every political persuasion. The NEA was seen at the time as being the political body that was constantly meddling into matters that didn’t directly pertain to teaching.

But oh, how times have changed. Even at the state level.

I remember an Executive Board meeting where we were being asked to support the expansion of gambling into our state through video poker machines. The governor at the time guaranteed us that if we would support the video poker machine bill that we could expect a huge pay raise the following year. Most of the people around the table were excited about the idea of a large and long overdue pay raise. When asked for my opinion I remember saying, “We’re selling our souls for thirty pieces of silver.” Well, the majority vote was to support the bill. The bill passed and we received a hefty pay raise of… $500.00 – almost the price of those thirty pieces of silver.

Our state has paid a heavy price since. I fear that casino gambling is only a matter of time.

I have also been involved in endorsing political candidates. There is an old saying that unions love to use: “He may be an SOB, but he’s *our* SOB.” They didn’t care about his politics as long as he would support our bills in the legislature. And any questions could be met with icy stares. Mind you, the people I have worked with in AFT-West Virginia have been extremely friendly toward me. But it was always evident that my opinion was in the “minority” as far as they were concerned.

I use quotation marks because I know that the majority of the members in my state are just as conservative as I am. But these people do not serve as leaders in the union. I have told people that I could never be a state or national leader in the union because I could never sell my morals out just to “play ball.” I have seen people that I know for certain did not believe in who or what they were expected to convince the rank and file to support.

So what words of wisdom would I leave you with? Just this: When you think of the “teachers’ unions” in such unflattering terms, please remember that there are many good people that are in the ranks out of necessity and have to turn their noses up at the politics to stay protected in the classroom.


8 thoughts on “Teacher Union Voices – State Politics”

  1. Get out of the “union” and join the Association of American Educators. For about $150/year, one of the bennies is a $2million liability policy.

  2. I agree, Darren. I have been a teacher for 10 years and a member of AAE for 8. I have the joy of knowing my money doesn’t support union dogma, and I’m even more protected than their members! I’m tired of union gang mentality getting in the way of growing good teachers in our schools.

  3. I’m not registered, but this is Kenny the author.

    Will the AAE come to my school and represent me if I have a problem with my principal?

    Will they lobby my state legislature for our keeping our insurance or negotiate for a pay raise?

    If they will, sign me up.

    There’s more to liability than an insurance policy.

    Nothing negative meant towards the AAE, please understand.

    So I’m trying to change things from within, as hard as it might be.

    Thanks for your comments. I appreciate them.


  4. Why is it that of all the professions in the world, only teachers believe that they need to have some one come an help them resolve a ‘problem’ with their boss?

    Look, we all know what that really means. No matter how bad you screw up, and no matter how strictly the principal is following the rules, the union will send a guy over to harrass and threaten the principal until he gives in.

    As for lobbying, professional associations (where they are allowed) do that just as well if not better than unions.

  5. Better than having a union rep come to your school to help you if you have a job protection issue with your principal, the AAE’s liability policy provides you with an ATTORNEY of your choice. In my experience, union reps often have conflicts of interest with the administration. Securing your best interest may not be in their best interest, hence lousy or biased service. In Washington, the WEA told its locals to only represent those teachers whose cases advance the union’s goals and core values. You get legal help from the Association of American Educators without the conflics of interest. See http://www.aaeteachers.org (800-704-7799) and spend just a fraction of the cost of union dues.

    And another thing. . . the union hasn’t been so successful in raising teachers’ salaries. Check out http://www.nwpe.org/PDF_Files/Open_Letter.pdf.

  6. Kenny again.

    Gee, you people are vicious.

    I’m on your side… not the enemy…

    I guess I should just throw my hands up and quit. I am trying to change my union from the inside.

    Never mind. Your minds are made up…

    Anything else I say will just get hammered, so why bother?

  7. Kenny,

    I don’t think anyone is being vicious to you. Speaking for myself, I get angry at the idea that the minority elite leaders in the teachers’ unions across America “run the show.” Many follow like “sheep.” Trying to change from the inside doesn’t help in many places. Most unions have the “inner circle”, and at least here in Miami, for a long time, whenever there was a vote, it always favored that “inner circle.” For me AAE has been a blessing.

    Question: I know you said you don’t want to do things against your beliefs, but how are you going to change things from the inside if you don’t run for an office?

  8. Kenny, I don’t think anyone has been vicious here at all. What you’re hearing are voices of teachers and others who are fed up with the union status quo. If you are really trying to change your union from the inside, then I wish you good luck, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t hold my breath waiting for these changes. Many of us have given up on what to us are clearly outmoded institutions that do more harm than good, and are looking for modern, realistic alternatives.

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