-“Solidarity Forever,” written by Ralph Chaplin in 1915 for the Wobblies.
Before going overseas, I worked for twelve years as a public school media specialist for district 549C in Medford, Oregon. Two weeks ago, for the first time in the district’s history, my former colleagues went on strike.
Their reasons were excellent – after years of accepting incremental decreases in benefits along with increased duties, Medford teachers were offered a new contract proposing drastic cuts that could only be taken as an insult. This “final offer” was the final straw. The teachers’ union rejected the contract; the district retaliated with threats and full-page mudslinging ads in the local paper.
I followed the standoff on the news and through posts on Facebook. I have a number of conservative or apolitical friends who wrote that they had never thought of the teacher’s union, or unions in general, as important or necessary in America today. Unions were only there to help bad workers. My friends felt that as long as they did their job well and stayed out of trouble, they would never need the union. But that point of view relies on bosses acting in good faith and in the best interest of all parties. After years of believing that teachers and admins were a collaborative team, what a slap in the face – or a stab in the back – to be betrayed by the school board and downtown administrators in this way.
We don’t have the benefit of unions on the overseas circuit. It’s up to the teacher to read the contract closely before agreeing to anything. And even then, you hear horror stories about schools that don’t honor the terms of their contracts, and there is no union to protect you if that happens. And then there is the fact that overseas teaching contracts are only for a year or two, so job security is simply not a consideration. While this is good for people who want to move around a lot, it can be pretty harsh if you had hoped to stay for a while.
I heard that Medford’s strike is ending today. My teaching friends are relieved and excited to be getting back to their classrooms and their students. I don’t know what the new contract looks like, but I hope the union held out for the terms that these hard-working professionals deserve. If they did, then I think some of those teachers will have a new-found appreciation for what a union can do for them.