So you may ask, why am I in this darn union? Is it to work toward changing the rules? Is it to serve my individual needs? Is it to be with a group when the ship goes down? Unions exist to serve the needs of the membership and the needs of the masses, as a whole. They exist to make the work environment cooperative, in order to meet the mutual goals of the union and the administration or management. Sometimes that means not winning at all costs each and every time. Other times it may mean not always taking a position which is totally contrary to the administration or management of the organization. Being in a union means we buy a membership in the union, not a service, through our dues deduction. The membership we purchase is much like a gym membership. We pay dues to become part of a larger group with similar interests and goals.
Education employees should realize they have bought a membership in today’s union and, therefore, have a right to participate in the decision-making process for the group. We are all then governed by common rules for the work environment set out by the contract and laws governing the profession. The membership affords us the rights which are agreed upon by the group and the administration. If I find a right is being violated, I have a process to file a grievance, also outlined in the contract. If I have a complaint, there is a different process. I have a right to participate in the union’s processes for grievances and complaints because of the dues deduction. No one wants a membership with no participation. Unions offer a reliable way to have an authentic voice in concerns.
There is no room for self-centered attitudes in a union. We should hold true to the belief “one for us all and all of us for one.” This mantra will bring about strength and unity for the good of all members. It is important to hear all the voices of the membership and to select the road which best serves us all. The union does not serve individual needs; rather it hears my voice amongst the voices of the membership, and the union selects the course of action that best serves us all. Once a deal is made, members need to respect the leadership, work toward spreading the good of the whole to colleagues, and move the union forward. It is not our role as members to be after-the-fact quarterbacks. The ultimate goal is equity. I may not appreciate every decision made or agree with everyone whose voice gets heard, but we’re in this together.
Membership in a union means we do not leave any of our members “out on a limb alone.” Unions protect and defend the rules, regardless of the person. The union’s responsibility is to protect the rights, bargained or legislated, of the members. The union should engage in collective behaviors that ensure the stability and viability of the profession. Working against individual needs is required to guarantee the survival of the agreement and the health of the workplace and the profession.
As a union we need to be ready to dust ourselves off and continue our efforts to ensure the stability of our profession, the value of our workplace, and the cohesiveness of our group. In the current political atmosphere, we can’t be angry or complacent in our union. Change may be necessary for the health of the organization, but it takes each of us to bring about that evolution. We cannot be braced to watch the downfall of the union—because the union guarantees our future. We must have an active, ongoing presence in, and influence on, the profession we have chosen.
Who is the union—we are the union! Engage in wearing our union on our sleeve as a badge of honor. If you are still asking “why am I in this darn union,” I say to you—you bought a membership and it is time to show up, invest your time, and participate. You must participate fully, no matter what conflict arises. Strength in numbers, growth through community. We organize, because without such allied strength, we have even less control over the difficult work for which we must accept accountability.