But over time I’ve learned that the union’s collective bargaining is every bit as political. The union is bargaining for things I’d never support. For example, in my community, the union spends resources pushing for ever-higher teacher salaries. I’m in favor of a decent salary for teachers, but I think we are already well paid compared with everyone else in the Central Valley.
The area has endured hard times in the past few years. Parents of my students have been laid off, and many are still unemployed. Some have moved in with grandparents or other family members to stay afloat financially. Families struggle to make ends meet. That the union would presume to push, allegedly on my behalf, for higher salaries at the expense of smaller class sizes and avoiding teacher layoffs is preposterous.
The union also negotiates policies on discipline, grievances and seniority that make it difficult—if not impossible—to remove bad teachers. Over three decades I’ve seen my share of educators who should be doing something else. One example that sticks with me involved a colleague whom everyone, students and faculty, knew was incompetent. All on campus knew that he was biding his time until retirement.
These situations are sad. Students were relying on this teacher for an education, and he did not deliver. Yet he could do exactly as he pleased because the union had negotiated protections based on seniority.