Union's end wouldn't justify means

Glendale News Press

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

In a month I'll be saying goodbye to fellow professionals at my school and throughout the district for whom I have the utmost respect.

I'll also be cut loose from my union, the Glendale Teachers Assn., and with the exception of the present leadership, I have always been a loyal member and grateful for its representation. But more on that later.

I know that for some of you reading this, tending perhaps toward the right side of the political spectrum, the word "union" has a negative connotation. At various times in our country's history, the image of organized labor has been portrayed as "un-American" (We are, after all, a nation of rugged individuals, not armies of workers), and at times even communistic (Marx wrote that the workers of the world would one day unite).

My feeling as a citizen of this nation, as a long-standing member of a union and as a history teacher for 35 years, is that unions are absolutely necessary. Our nation's history is rife with examples of labor exploitation — children working 15 hours a day in hazardous conditions, women paid next to nothing for their labors, decent wages and basic benefits being denied or summarily reduced by owners, and management looking only to their bottom line while caring little for the people whose labor produced it.

That being said, there are also plenty of examples of unions exercising their own kind of tyranny by virtue of the numbers they control. In general, I believe that unions stray from their original and primary purpose by endorsing candidates and getting involved in political issues. The public's perception of organized labor is often of monolithic organizations with its members herded into lock-step compliance with central edicts and party lines.

I will never subscribe to the notion that any organization speaks for me in matters of politics. I speak for myself.

My union is there to fight for my basic rights, a fair wage and decent benefits. Period.

When I disagree with the decisions that are made by my union leaders, I should feel free to voice them instead of being chastised for having broken with the ranks.

Do unions sometimes go too far in their zeal to win concessions from management? There's no shortage of historical examples there as well. My union presents a classic case in point. In response to the negotiations impasse between the Glendale Unified School District Board of Education and our union, a decision has been made and requests have gone out for all teachers to amass in front of the home of school board President Greg Krikorian for a "peaceful silent protest."

The flier sent to each public school teacher in Glendale asks that we "Park as close to the home as possible."

Several things come to mind.

First off, I'm happy to report that this action does not have the support of a good number of us teachers in the district. Virtually all of us are in favor of saving the jobs of our colleagues who have been given layoff notices.

We would also like to see every pressure put on the school board to disclose the full extent of its reserves to the public.

We do, however, draw the line at invading the privacy of a man, his family and his neighbors. Are we to believe that this action will move negotiations forward, or persuade the board to rescind the layoff notices, or that it will suddenly dawn on them that, "Wow, these people really mean business"?

Our union's president has said that standard approaches to negotiations have failed to produce the desired results, hence the "let's go get him where he lives" tactic being employed.

One wonders what is next when this move doesn't pan out. Perhaps we might exert influence on Krikorian's children in school by having their teachers single them out in their classes.

"Do you know that your daddy is hurting teachers?" we might ask as they stand in front of their classmates.

And if that doesn't work, perhaps we could send some union reps up to our board president's house and go through his trash in hopes of finding something incriminating.

If none of that works, then let's take it up a notch and hang all of the board members, and for good measure our superintendent, in effigy in a public place while we teachers mass together wearing our unity T-shirts and stirring caldrons of tar and feathers for the next planned escalation.

I have tried to distill the present disagreement between my union and the Board of Education, and this is the best I can up with: The school board is looking three years down the road and assuming the worst-case scenario of a continued economic slump in the state, and hence, a growing deficit for the district. The union is asking the district to adopt a more hopeful outlook and, for the sake of its teachers, take a risk by rescinding the notices for at least another year.

If I have accurately stated the situation, then I am with my union and would urge our board to rescind their notices and allocate the resources to retain our teachers.

Given the challenges our district faces, it has an unsurpassed reputation for excellence. I believe that our teachers should be front and center in taking credit for that. They have not just done a good job — they have performed superbly, based on any measure one cares to apply.

That deserves more than token recognition for a "job well done" from our school board. That merits a "We're going out on a limb for you."

While I agree with that goal, I repudiate the tactics that my union is employing to achieve it.

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