Sometimes when we succeed we are forced to acknowledge that we are wrong about why we fail. Several good things have happened in WEAC Region 6 recently that are causes for celebration and also serve as this sobering reminder.
The Beloit Education Association and Beloit Secretarial Union have been publicly
celebrated by Beloit's school administrators
for creating and building a strong minority teacher scholarship program. In Marshall, MEA activists have prevailed upon the school board to reverse an administrative decision to lay off veteran teachers. In Darlington, Evansville, Belleville, Mount Horeb, Milton, Dodgeville and a handful of locals throughout Region 6, union membership is increasing rather than stagnating.
As educators in Wisconsin in 2016, we frequently confront disappointment and bad news. We just do. Many of our state's problems manifest themselves in school districts, classrooms and in our union. Some of these are problems that elected officials create-like Act 10-and others are problems they can't or won't solve-like child poverty, income inequality, drug addiction and broken homes. Challenges that negatively affect our students have a way of affecting us.
As union members, we confront an additional set of disappointments. Membership in the union is not as high as we would like it to be. Administrators and school boards sometimes do not cooperate with the union and do not treat employees with enough respect. We can't do our jobs as well as we could because of bad decisions our bosses make. Our pay is low and our benefits are being diminished.
The explanations we offer for why bad things happen are not unreasonable. We say potential members are not joining the union because their budgets are tight and they don't know enough about what the union does. We say non-renewals are impossible to reverse because the system is rigged against us. We say administrators and boards treat us badly because that is just the way they are.
As reasonable as those explanations sound, they don't explain why membership is growing in several of our locals. Apparently it is not impossible to reverse an administrator's non-renewal, because the MEA just did it. If administrators are just fundamentally anti-union then the administration in Beloit would not take time to give BEA and BSU credit for their accomplishments and allot space for the union
on the district's own website
Region 6 leaders are looking closely at these success stories so we can figure out how to replicate them. One thing I can say at first glance is that these unions have members who believe they can make a difference and are willing to risk failure. Too often, I believe, membership is not higher because we have not asked our colleagues to join. We don't build partnerships with administrators or outside organizations because we assume people will say no. We decide it is impossible to reverse administrative decisions so we don't even try.
Sometimes I wonder if we are our own worst enemy. Do we talk in our locals about our union and the incredible things collective action and engagement have accomplished and can accomplish? No one else is serving as advocates for teachers and the education professions. Virtually every victory for public education is won by education employee unions. The teach-more, test-less movement exists because of unions, and we can take credit for specific and significant progress like the recent passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Is this something we make an effort to tell the people we work with? The common thread that runs through all the success is engagement, and unfortunately the place we succeed least is engaging our colleagues. The best way to maintain and advance these achievements is to engage our brothers and sisters locally, in the buildings where we work.
Maybe you disagree with me. Better yet, maybe you have a success story from your local that you wish I had included here. If you do, please
or call the Region 6 office at 1-800-397-2287. I would love to hear more good news.
President of WEAC Region 6