We’ve faced so many challenges in the last few years.
Two new tiers were added to our pension system. The Tax Cap has changed how districts create their budgets, jeopardizing jobs and programs across the state. New teacher evaluation laws have coupled teacher and student fate to an obsession over poorly designed tests. Charter schools increasingly siphon money away from public schools, and locally, we struggle with the worst enrollment decline we’ve seen in decades.
Perhaps the greatest threat we’ve recently faced, however, was the attack against unions that was waged in the recent Friedrichs vs. California Teachers’ Association Supreme Court case. If the enemy is at the gates, and I believe it is, a negative decision in this case against a union’s right to organize its members wouldn’t present itself as a single attack that might impact one or two aspects of life. Friedrichs presented a threat against our very ability to protect ourselves against all threats - like passing a law against self defense or being subjected to a virus that cripples your immune system.
For however bad any one of the threats listed above may have been, or any may be in the future, it is our unions, and the power to organize and fight together with our community partners that offers us the greatest chance to protect what we believe in - strong public schools, worker rights, dignity in retirement. It’s important that all union members recognize and preserve that power.
As someone who’s been actively involved in many of these battles, I think there are a few key lessons each of us should consider as we face future challenges together:
(1) There’s no such thing as false alarm.
(2) It takes teamwork to really move the needle.
(3) Savor the victories, however small they may seem.
(4) With each crisis comes an opportunity.
The threats we’ve faced in the last few years have inspired unions to expand what we do exponentially, engaging more members and creating more leaders every day. If that which does not kills us only makes us stronger, then I believe, together, we’ll be ready for what lies ahead – the 2017 Constitutional Convention that threatens all of our pensions (this time we’re not just talking about new tiers).
I get it… kids need to get to Jiu Jitsu, she’s got a peanut allergy and he can’t eat anything with gluten. There’s Common Core math homework to do and even though it’s only for a second grader you find yourself feeling painfully inadequate and in need of extra help. And there’s a new craft brew in the fridge calling your name. Life keeps us busy.
I believe our opponents see how much this generation of young workers busies itself with other things and have labeled us as the weakest link – a generation from which they can take back all the gains of three of four generations that preceded us (see page 10). But if you haven’t made the realization yet – you are a union member. You benefit GREATLY from being so, but with those benefits comes some responsibility. Any member who would not willingly cast off his/her retirement, contract, salary, benefits and protections should see the need to actively protect those things.
The enemy is indeed at the gates, brothers and sisters. Like archers in the ramparts, our union leaders and active members have used their training and commitment to keep them at bay. There comes a time, however, when every able-bodied man and woman, when faced with existential threat, must take up arms – if for no other reason but protecting yourself and your loved ones.