It's time to ask: Why should teachers have unions? I am not a member of a union, and I have never belonged to a union, but here is what I see. From the individual teacher's point of view, it is valuable to have an organization to turn to when you feel you have been treated unfairly, one that will supply you with assistance, even a lawyer, one that advocates for improvement in your standard of living. From society's point of view, it is valuable to have unions to fight for funding for public education and for smaller class sizes and for adequate compensation for teachers. I recently visited Arizona, a right-to-work state, and parents there complained to me about classes of 30 for children in 1st and 2nd grades, and even larger numbers for older students; they complained that the starting salary for teachers was only $26,000 and that it is hard to find strong college graduates to enter teaching when wages are so low.
I have often heard union critics complain that contracts are too long, too detailed, too prescriptive. I have noticed that unions don't write their own contracts. There are always two sides that negotiate a contract and sign it. If an administration is so weak that it signs a contract that is bad for kids, bad for the district's finances, or bad for education, then shame on them.
The fight in Wisconsin now is whether public-sector unions should have any power to bargain at all. The fight is not restricted to Wisconsin; it is taking place in many other states, including New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Illinois. The battle has already been lost in other states.
If there is no organized force to advocate for public education in the state capitols of this nation, our children and our schools will suffer. That's the bottom line. And that's why I stand with the teachers of Wisconsin. I know you do, too.
When was the last time that teachers packed the halls of the Capitol in Columbia as they're packing the Capitol in Madison?