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Opinion

Commentary: Union protects and informs Newport-Mesa teachers

Teacher contract rally
Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers President Britt Dowdy, left, and Jeff Freitas, president of the California Federation of Teachers, rally Newport-Mesa teachers before an NMUSD board of trustees meeting.
(File Photo)

Maine is pretty cold in the winter. It was freezing when I was a kid. Union suits — one piece underwear — were de rigueur.

Everyone had them. I had two, until I burned a hole in one of them and then only had one for the rest of the winter. That is another story of one childhood lie, angst, nightmares and finally a teary confession. It may never be told.

Union suits protected kids and adults from the inevitable storms that swept down the Maine coast for months. Even though they were hard to get into and sometimes a little embarrassing (especially that back door situation), they were definitely a necessity.

Like union suits, from time to time it has been hard and embarrassing to belong to a union. It was something very blue collar.

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They tried to convince us that it was what you did when you didn’t have the guts in our John Wayne society to make it on your own. Unions were also tainted with the lore of Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters.

They were considered to be corrupt and occasionally violent. Some of this was true, and some of it was just plain propaganda perpetrated by business interests.

Just like union suits the truth is that unions protect. You have safer working conditions, healthcare, retirement benefits and a myriad of other important things — not to mention that your 8-year-old kids aren’t working in factories or McDonald’s.

Some of you reading this might dismiss the current importance of unions, but don’t be silly. In this world where corporations are considered people, unions are needed more than ever.

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If you are one of those people who believe that unions are not needed, answer this question:

What can one person do whose job is in danger of having their salary reduced, being accused of something or being fired?

Teachers need unions as much, if not more than others not because there is a concerted effort to get rid of public education.

Districts, including the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, routinely use and abuse teachers by resisting salary increases, inflating the cost of benefits packages, continuing large class sizes, cutting materials, cutting maintenance, adding expensive programs, which make teaching virtually impossible, and trying to scare teachers who speak out.

Right now the district is once again fooling around by not following the contract that has been around for the last 20 years, according to the teacher’s union, refusing to have fair prep time for elementary teachers and refusing appropriate staffing for psychologists, nurses, counselors and social workers. It continues to award administrators bloated salaries.

NMUSD has done something right though. They have, without understanding what they have done, educated their teachers regarding their practices and made them stronger and more informed than ever.

They are proudly and with purpose, putting on their union suits.

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Retired teacher Sandy Asper lives in Newport Beach.


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