There are a lot of attacks on unions these days. Many states want to strip away the rights of unions to collective bargaining. There is so much misinformation out there, it’s sickening. For the last 8 months I’ve been a part of a collective bargaining process and I can honestly say that the beneficiaries of the process will be students.
In the latest round of negotiations, my union tried a new approach. Open bargaining. Anyone could come and watch. Every Thursday from the beginning of school until last week, we had negotiations from 5pm to 7pm. There weren’t any confidentiality issues because anyone could come and watch. Our members always knew what was happening and which topics were up for discussion. They knew that the contract updates were their source of accurate information about what was happening in regard to the contract. There were a few stories in the newspaper. But the reporter never bothered to actually come to a session before reporting on it. Shame on you. Never assume that the newspaper is giving you accurate information. This is a clear case where it was always wrong.
As my 2nd time on the bargaining team, I was a little apprehensive about this new approach. But as it became routine and people were getting interested in the process, I realized that it helped the process immensely. Depending on the issue, no matter who was actually sitting at the table, we had people behind us that were experts in the field and we could call on them for practical examples and experiences at any time. While we were bargaining, they would look up information for us and pass us notes that would answer the questions brought up in discussion.
When people think of unions and bargaining, many think about money. We barely talked about money at all. The monetary portion of our contract seemed like a footnote this time. All of our discussions revolved around working conditions and what is best for kids. Smaller class sizes, Special Education workloads that make sense, a robust Peer Assistance and Review Program, Labor Management training sessions, discussions about new initiatives, Home Visit Projects, and a whole host of other issues were the pillars of what we accomplished this round.
Did we get everything we wanted? No. But we had some really good discussions. I often wonder if productive discussions ever take place between labor and management other than at the bargaining table. It is true that most of the new agreements in the contract were issues brought up by the union. But guess what? We’re the ones that are in the classrooms every day and know what issues we face. We are the ones that know what needs to be fixed because we live it day in and day out. Of course we’ll be the ones that want to make the most change.
For all of you that are anti-union, you really don’t know what it’s all about. Everything that we have accomplished is for the betterment of the profession and for students in our district. It may even be ground breaking contract language that could have a nice ripple effect elsewhere. Unions are responsible for making working conditions better for ALL. Even if you are not part of a union, your working conditions have been made better because of various unions across the nation in many different fields. Everyone in the US wants to think that they can do it on their own and they are the ones that are in charge of their destiny. But guess what? Every individual is standing on the shoulders of someone else who has already fought the hard battle to get you rights that you would have never had all on your own.