Thursday, January 13, 2011

On crossing picket lines, or why Together We Are Stronger

It recently became a topic of debate on a coworker's Facebook page, whether or not it was ethical to cross the potential picket lines of a striking school district. It turns out that National City School District has authorized a potential strike, after failing to reach a contract agreement with the district. On the table: furlough days (and the corresponding pay reduction), larger class sizes, and the length of such a contract. Obviously, the teachers don't want to agree to anything that's binding for the long term, if it means so many sacrifices. (This news is as of December 20th, and I can find nothing recent to say they've decided one way or the other)

This coworker, the one that asked about the strike, is employed as a long term sub at our school site. I'm pretty sure he is only working 80%, and he is definitely under-employed. He got his credential at a crappy time to be a new teacher, and is struggling to find a position. And, honestly, he's a great teacher. I feel for him. I was pink slipped 3 years ago, and see my fellow teachers go through that painful and terrifying process yearly. Our economy sucks balls all over the spectrum, not just in education. And fighting for a job can be a fight for survival.

In addition, some of you may have noticed the anti-union rhetoric that has become more and more popular in this debate, as well as in other debates. According to some, unions are to blame for our political problems, our economic problems, our social problems, your issues with your mother, and probably global warming, too. Union leaders probably commune with Satan and kick puppies.

But I need to say a few things on crossing picket lines, and unions. First off, unions represent the labor movement in this country, where we fought for health care, a living wage, and the FREAKING WEEKEND. I, for one, have no desire to navigate a profession where I am unprotected from the whims of my superiors, or from the mercurial nature of educational politics. I have twice voted whether or not to authorize a strike, in my 6 years in public education, and my district has twice voted it down. It takes A LOT to get to that point. It takes many contract negotiation and mediation sessions. It takes multiple votes from constituents. It is not a decision treated lightly, by anyone involved.

If I had to choose whether or not to strike, let me tell you what would go through my mind: First and foremost, what about my students? I can barely stand a sick day when they have a sub. Will they be ok? How will they prepare for the next year? How long will I be away from them? Will the person in charge of them know their idiosyncrasies, their academic needs, their medical needs, their emotional needs? Will they be safe? Will they understand? Next, my personal concerns: How will I pay my bills? Is it best for me to do this or to scab and cross the lines? How will this affect my career and job security in the future? Whether I chose to strike or cross, my heart and mind would be in knots. Either way, I would be racked with guilt. Why? Because teachers do not choose teaching lightly. We are already overworked and unrespected and paid in peanuts. Spoiler alert: We do it for the kids.

So when I hear about people considering crossing picket lines, I can't help but feel betrayed, even as I understand the complexities and difficulty of their situation. United we stand; divided we fall. Every teacher out there on the picket lines came to that decision with gravity and extreme guilt. They made the terribly difficult decision, both personally and professionally, to take a stand. They may even do it against their better judgement, when it comes to their classrooms. By crossing that picket line, you negate all those worries. You negate all we've fought for as a profession. You dismiss all those contradicting forces those teachers have to contend with, and the principles for which they are risking everything to stand . And you know what else? It's plain bad karma. If someone is desperate enough to strike, you better bet your ass there's a good reason for it. Respect that. Tighten your belt a few months longer, and find a job that isn't stolen. One with better conditions, at the very least. If we show them we're willing to work for peanuts, it is peanuts we shall continue to receive.

Rant over. Thanks for listening.

In solidarity.


  1. 1. I love a teacher who uses the phrase "sucks balls."

    2. I'm totally pro-union. For all the same reasons. Alex is, too, despite the fact that he's never worked a job that had one.

    3. I love you, you are beautiful. Thank you for every little thing you do for this world.